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Photo from the Living Room, Feb 28, 2015

On February 28, the MCA’s Teen Creative Agency (TCA) hosted a Living Room with young activists centered around the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the history that informs it. Working with MCA staff, TCA member Ria Egeria wrote about the program, the ideas, and the conversation that took place that day.

TCA has been talking a lot about the recent events in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement, and larger ideas of injustice. When the Doris Salcedo show opened, we realized that she was exploring similar issues. To bring these conversations to a larger audience in the MCA, we teamed up with young artists and activists  involved with groups like We Charge Genocide to design and lead the Living Room.

One of the ideas we explored as a group is looking back at the past to understand the present.

We decided to create a timeline that would run up and down the stairs of the MCA. Each floor of the museum represented a different period of black history; from precolonial to slavery, to civil rights, to modern times and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  TCA members stood at each point on the timeline, holding stickers with an image, fact, or question, such as:

“Radical simply means ‘grasping thing at the root.’” —Angela Davis
What do you associate with the word radical?

The US has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prison population. People of color make up about 30 percent of the US population but 60 percent of those imprisoned.”
How do these numbers make you feel?

The #BlackLivesMatter movement, which is founded in response to racially-charged injustices, was created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, three LGBTQ black women.
What makes your life valuable? Is everyone’s life significant?

Using those stickers as starting points, we engaged in a discussion with museum goers and then encouraged them to add their own ideas and personal responses to the timeline.

We closed out the event at the bottom of this staircase timeline by reflecting on the day.

Here are some of the powerful, thought-provoking responses that filled the timeline MCA staircase by the end of the day:

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Interested in these issues? We’ll be leading a follow-up on this particular Living Room, focusing on the present and the Black Lives Matter movement, on April 25, 2–4 pm. The next Living Room is this weekend, March 28; it focuses on the sensory experience of art.

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Moving History

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Posted March 24, 2015

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The Seldoms
Power Goes
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

As The Seldoms return to MCA Stage on Thursday for their final four performances of Power Goes, Michael Kramer, dramaturg for The Seldoms, Visiting Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Northwestern University, and Editor for the MCA, goes behind-the-scenes about the ideas, choices, and history that drive the company’s sound and visual design for Power Goes.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose.”
—Lyndon Johnson, Thanksgiving 1963

I was trained as a historian, so one of the pleasures of serving as dramaturg for The Seldoms and their talented collaborators is to witness how they draw upon historical source material to create total environment, multimedia dance theater that addresses pressing social issues of today.

The ensemble’s new work, Power Goes, uses Lyndon Baines Johnson and his tumultuous time as president in the 1960s as a starting point to explore the relationship between power and social change. Gestures, movements, stances, and abstracted postures from the past inform Artistic Director Carrie Hanson’s choreography, which is at the core of the piece. This method also extends as well to costumes created by Jeff Hancock, the artwork of Sarah Krepp, and the lighting designs of Julie Ballard, but it is most apparent in the multimedia accompaniment created by video designers Bob Faust and his animation and technology partner Liviu Pasare, sound designer Mikhail Fiksel, and playwright Stuart Flack.

Faust and Pasare, Fiksel, and Flack begin, respectively, with photographs, audio recordings, and texts of speeches from Johnson’s time. These become springboards for setting the tone and context that surround the central dance elements of Power Goes.

Taking a closer look at (and giving a closer listen to) the ways the collaborators moved from historical artifacts to theatrical creations reveals how collaborative dance theater develops through interactions among different artists, each adopting a similar approach to a topic, but using different forms of expression to do so. They bring past and present into heightened interaction, unloosening history from sepia-tinged nostalgia and, simultaneously, reminding us that we act today under the influence of what has come before us. It is in this way, among others, that power goes in Power Goes.

The Johnson Treatment

Bob Faust works as a multifaceted designer for both commercial enterprises, museums, and artists. His videography for Power Goes, created in collaboration with Liviu Pasare, begins with iconic photographs of Johnson, a famously fierce politician, at his most fearsome.

LBJ-JFK-pointing
LBJ-smiling-pointing
LBJ-Pointing-From-Desk
LBJ-pointing

Drawing upon the oozing styles of 1960s psychedelic light shows, Faust and Pasare turned these photos into animated assemblages.

But rather than present them in woozy, acid-rock Technicolor, they chose to stay in a stark palette of black and white, which to my eyes intensifies the angry edge of Johnson’s bulldog persona.

The spreading seepage of the ink-like video is richly suggestive of how power itself sometimes works: it sneaks up on you; you are not quite sure what you are experiencing; it threatens to envelop you and it might just bleed off the screen to push you around; then it crystallizes into a strong figure of intimidating leadership (or as other sections of Power Goes probe, collective action).

The Johnson Treatment appears near the beginning of Power Goes. It features longtime member of The Seldoms Christina Gonzalez-Gillett merging gestures from Johnson with a rather surreal dialogue about haircuts. The projection is shown against a backdrop of chairs that figure importantly later in the work. It makes for a strange, disorienting display of power: all at once she holds the spotlight but is overwhelmed by the media surrounding her. She throws her fist down and points to the sky. She sizes the crowd up before her, but in turn stands exposed before them. To my eyes, there is a kind of tug of war between dancer in the present and almost-ghostly photographs from the past. She seizes history and wields power, but there are moments too when history and power seem to wield her as their instrument.

Powerful Stories

If Faust and Pasare bring out the public persona of Johnson as pugnacious politician, then one example of the sound design for Power Goes by Mikhail Fiksel demonstrates the softer dimensions of how a figure such as LBJ wielded power: as a master storyteller.

Fiksel, who works both in theater and as a DJ, blends together archival recordings of Johnson telling tales—a more informal but essential dimension of how power works—into a sonic evocation of the power of the voice of LBJ as a narrator. His focus is less on the content of Johnson’s stories than the way in which Johnson disarmed listeners through the quality of his speaking, how he performed stories in service of wielding power. Listening to Fiskel’s treatments of LBJ’s storytelling recordings, we begin to understand that the President was not only the brusque, crude, intimidating leader, but also a caster of spells, a speaker who could exert control over audiences through enchantment.

Using the “raw” historical material of audio recordings that document Johnson telling stories, Fiksel produces a tone poem that is less about the content of Johnson’s storytelling than the mesmerizing timing and rhythm of his pacing, the skillful ways he uses timbre, intonation, volume, and pitch, the ways in which he is able to seize control and overwhelm at a sensorial rather than a semantic level.

Inspired by composers such as Steve Reich, he quite literally turned the cadence of Johnson’s voice into melodic guitar lines. An original Johnson recording

becomes a musical phrase

so that when you hear them together you begin to pay attention to the sonic qualities of LBJ’s storytelling style.

The achievement of mastery by this master storyteller emanates not so much from the actual details of his tales, but rather from his performance of vocal gesture and form. Like a dancer, in fact, but with sound.

Here are other examples of voice

and musical phrase,

and a combination of the two.

The final result is a musical composition that contains a dense web of multiple Johnsons telling tales. His voice leans in and backs away, coils itself around your shoulders and into your ears, then recedes into the vistas of the Texas Hill Country from which LBJ came. He plays the country bumpkin and the wise sage, the twinkle-eyed elder and the innocent naïve. He has audiences in the palm of his voice.

Fiksel chases his phrasing round and round with acoustic guitar phrases and percussive clicks that produce a compressed, hypnotic, musical evocation of a politician who was famous for his ability to win over audiences in face-to-face gatherings.

His current version of the fully developed design sounds like this:

The sound design created by Fiksel accompanies an extended sequence of dance in which The Seldoms themselves perform gestures of storytelling. As audience members, we do not know the contexts for these motions and movements, which encompass everything from the comical to the aggressive, the playful to the deadly serious, the informal to the official. What we receive instead of context is a density of references.

Overall, the combination of sound design and dance movement conveys how power works through whispers as well as screams. The Johnson Treatment, it turns out, was about far more than just aggressive bullying; it could work at more soothing, charming, and bewitching frequencies as well.

The Presidential Past and Present in Dialogue

Playwright Stuart Flack contributes original dialogue spoken by the dancers in Power Goes. At key moments, he also collages historical materials of spoken word from the past into scripted accompaniment to the dance movement on stage. One of the most startlingly scenes in which he does this is a dialogue between Johnson and Barack Obama taken entirely from speeches made by the two presidents: Johnson’s famous 1965 “We Shall Overcome” speech (sometimes called “The American Promise” speech) in the aftermath of the civil rights march on Selma, Alabama, and Obama’s 2008 “More Perfect Union” address on race that he delivered in the aftermath of the publicity over his former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s controversial remarks.

LBJ’s speech is by a sitting president. He is responding to the grassroots pressure of civil rights protesters and the violent backlash against them. Obama’s is by a presidential candidate. He transforms a seeming scandal and liability into enormous political capital. Both are about the role of race in American life, both historically and in the moment the addresses were delivered. Flack skillfully uses collage to bring out where the two speeches—and the men who delivered them—converge and diverge, how they share certain kinds of charismatic forces as public speakers and also, crucially, where they wield power differently.

Here is Flack’s script:

flack-script

Mikhail Fiksel then created a sound design from the speech excerpts that Flack compiled, chopped up, and rearranged into a new sequence.

After conducting research on music from the 1960s, Fiksel then added Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” (recorded in 1961) to the mix. Written in 7/4 time, the composition is not only from the historic era in which LBJ rose to power, but also an off-kilter yet insistent accompaniment to the rhythm of the voices in the collage. Here is what it sounds like:

There is also a fabulously strange version of the song as accompaniment for un-square dancing on American television. (The Seldoms are not the first to dance to the song, but Power Goes certainly takes “Unsquare Dance” in a very different direction.)

Fiksel’s initial version of the sound design, taken from Flack’s collage tactics, brings voices and music together into a fully developed sound collage.

Then, Fiksel refined the sound design, tweaking the volume levels, timing, and pacing. The interplay of spoken word and music and other sound elements becomes a structure within which history and the present intersect.

Finally, Bob Faust added a typographically driven video treatment for the section, highlighting the key words in the speeches by giving them a large visual presence. The letters join the dance too.

Onstage, the resulting mix of dancing bodies, texts, sounds, songs, images, costumes, lighting, and more creates an intensification of both information and emotion. As viewers, we can receive, read, feel, perhaps even contemplate the references to the past, but my experience is that even as the material is rooted in the use of archival objects and historical frameworks, Power Goes does not send us back in time. Instead, it unleashes our imaginative facilities from present-day assumptions about the topic of power and social change.

“Tomorrow Is Ours To Win Or To Lose”

In Power Goes, The Seldoms and their collaborators use the past to reorient us to the present, in service of the future. They move history from the archives to the stage, from static source materials to something new. The transmogrification of historical artifacts into live theatrical action creates an ardency and an immediacy. It brings history to a boil. It generates an immersive space where bodies and media dance with each other, in time. Something is happening here. Or as Johnson himself put it in 1963, speaking as the leader of a nation shocked by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose.”

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The Seldoms
Power Goes

Posted March 19, 2015

After over a year of development, tomorrow marks the debut of The Seldoms’ new production Power Goes, produced in part through the MCA Stage New Works Initiative. Combining the visceral elements of dance with the narrative structure of theater, this innovative work examines the idea of power through the person and personality of President Lyndon B. Johnson and the tumultuous period in the 1960s that he presided over. Watch the video to learn more about the ideas and concepts that informed how The Seldoms developed their work.

Power Goes runs on MCA Stage until March 29: view all performance dates and times.

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How to Get Power

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Posted March 17, 2015

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Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell
Photo: Yoichi R. Okamoto

Dance meets theater in the debut of Power Goes this weekend, a creatively innovative work inspired by the persona of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his legacy, both the good, like civil rights legislation, Medicare, and Medicaid; and the bad, like escalating the United States’ role in the Vietnam War. The Seldoms’ dramaturg (and now editor at the MCA), Michael Kramer, muses on the influence of history and power on the work.

“What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals.”
— Robert Caro, Lyndon Baines Johnson biographer

Lyndon Baines Johnson was an imposing man. Six foot three, with a lust for domination and control that was legendary, he rose from the destitute but beautiful Hill Country region of Texas to Senate Majority Leader in 1955, to the vice presidency in 1960, and, finally, upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, to the presidency. Johnson’s career was tainted by controversy, questionable ethics, and backroom deals that epitomized the worst of insider Washington politics and corruption. Nonetheless, when he took office, Johnson also oversaw the passage and implementation of transformative civil rights legislation and social welfare initiatives with his Great Society programs. A man obsessed with accruing individual power, he sought to wield it in service of the collective good.

Johnson’s larger-than-life persona and the swirling tumult of the 1960s serve as the starting point for The Seldoms’ Power Goes.

This multimedia dance work is not merely a biographical study of LBJ, however. It uses Johnson to explore the concept of power and social change in American life from a much wider angle. It may seem unlikely to use dance to consider this issue, but the ways in which power and social change relate to the body, how physical movements parallel social movements, and the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of motion, stance, positioning, space, duration, performance, and interaction on public life—they all reveal dance to be one of the best forms for addressing this topic.

the seldoms power goes

The Seldoms. Photo: William Frederking

LBJ’s political prowess and ability to make change was itself linked to his physical presence. He famously employed the “Johnson Treatment,” leaning into other politicians when seeking to intimidate, control, or cajole them. He also knew how to stay still: according to his celebrated biographer Robert Caro, when LBJ first came to Washington, he often sat silently in the chambers of Congress for long periods of time, taking in legislative protocols and rules.

He was a master of the tactile in all its dimensions, whether in the cloakrooms of insider politics or on the campaign trail. Incidentally, he also loved to dance.

Johnson was not the only one interested in power during his presidency. He was pushed to action by grassroots struggles, by civil rights freedom fighters, and others (the question of who deserves credit for the political breakthroughs of the 1960s remains contested, as demonstrated by the controversies over representations of Johnson in the film Selma). LBJ’s success in getting Congress to adopt his policies also helped to power the rise of the New Right, with its reactionary conservatism often rooted in a visceral loathing of Johnson’s Great Society programs. Far more tragically, LBJ chose to escalate American involvement in the Vietnam War, a trauma so damaging to his reputation that he did not run for reelection in 1968 even though he won his 1964 presidency by a landslide.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and James Farmer

As Robert Caro contends, Johnson’s story sheds light on broader questions of power. “I don’t think of my books as being biographies,” Caro explained in a 2012 interview. “My interest is in power. How power works.” It is this larger issue of power and how it works that pulsates through Power Goes.

Choreographer Carrie Hanson’s reading of Caro’s LBJ biography during 2012, an election year that saw Americans frustrated by what felt like the partisanship and stalemate of national politics in the United States, inspired the questions in Power Goes:

How is power wielded for social change—or for the blockage of substantive social transformation? What is power, exactly, and how does it course through our culture, our institutions, our interactions, our things, our very bodies?

At the center of Power Goes is movement. In some sections, Hanson’s dancers work against each other in duets and group pieces of opposition, manipulation, and conflict. In others, they organize into a cooperative assembly, marching in solidarity. Often, as in life, the dance mixes the two: contentiousness and concord mingle, with issues of control, intransigence, and change at stake. In all cases, the body—both individually and collectively, as a social entity—is the essential medium in Power Goes. Probing the relationship of power to persistence, hindrance, impasse, stamina, alteration, surprise, and transformation with dance allows The Seldoms to access levels of information and meaning that language cannot reach.

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The Seldoms. Photo: William Frederking

“Put your body on the line!” That is what protesters insisted had to be done to oppose or change the policies of public figures like LBJ during the 1960s. Power Goes asks us to think about how embodiment mattered then, and continues to matter, to the workings of power. Looking back to the past to try to make sense of the present, The Seldoms put themselves on the line. They dance where history, giving us the Johnson Treatment, looms over our own time.

A version of this essay appeared in the MCA Stage program notes for The Seldoms.

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I’m Yours

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Posted March 12, 2015

Next Tuesday, artist Chase Joynt and assistant professor Kristen Schilt join us in the evening for an in-gallery conversation about trans* representation and a screening of short video works. Friends since 2002, when they met while studying at UCLA, the pair expands upon their collaborative, exploratory, and experimental work through an engagement with Joynt’s art practice, Schilt’s scholarship, and their shared investment in queer, feminist, and trans politics that emphasize social change. Preview Joynt’s video work here, then join us for the conversation and more on March 17.

In 2012, artist Nina Arsenault and I were contacted by the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) to comment on transgender topics in mainstream media. Following the radio show, we privately shared our frustrations at being asked the same repetitive, often intrusive questions about our bodies, lives, and identities by interviewers—questions that often extended far outside the scope of the topics at hand. As artists actively engaged in the politics and practices of transgender representation, we wondered how we might creatively call attention to the expectations placed on trans bodies in public. Utilizing familiar tropes of documentary film production and presentation, I’m Yours is my satirical and pointed response to our frustrations.

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Model Your Visit
All images courtesy the author

Tim Parsons and Jessica Charlesworth of Chicago-based design studio Parsons & Charlesworth were commissioned by the MCA’s Education Department to design their latest publication entitled Model Your Visit. The first in a series of three visitor guides, Model Your Visit uses scale models of the museum as a backdrop to tell the stories of three fictional characters, each of whom have different ways of experiencing the museum. Here, they explain how the characters shown in the guide came about.

In addition to the architectural models, which we discussed in a previous post, we were also interested in having the piece read like a graphic novel. The graphic novel template provides an ideal reference point in terms of encouraging visitors to tell their own story as they go through the museum and in relaying that story to others after their visit. We tried to capture the qualities of a graphic novel in the printed piece by layering in characters, locations, and activities, while leaving it open enough to allow visitors to imagine their own narratives.

The guide has three characters: Hannah, Jack, and Sofia. These three characters developed from our attempts to identify the different ways that people might experience and interpret the museum. There were specific reference points that informed each.

Hannah

hannah
Hannah, who has a scientific mindset, came from the idea of having a detective-like character. We were inspired by British filmmaker Patrick Keiller’s character Robinson, who undertakes a series of journeys to discover what Keiller calls “the problems of England.” Robinson is never seen, but we learn a lot about him through the voice-over of his traveling companion.

Jack

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While Hannah is based on a detective-like character, Jack is modeled after French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s famous character, Monsieur Hulot. When Tati created Hulot he produced an “everyman,” generous and well meaning, yet baffled by the advances of the modern world. The combination resulted in a character we were immediately sympathetic towards and whose actions we related to. For Jack’s page we wanted to share his inner monologue to show the way he was thinking about what he saw in the museum. He is not ignorant or simpleminded, in fact he is quite the opposite. He is highly observant and he thinks quite laterally, making interesting connections between what he sees and what he could do.

Sofia

TP_Model Your Visit_9

The third character, Sofia, wants to turn her visit into a work of art. We were inspired by the 1960s avant-garde group, the Situationist International. Some members of this group instituted the concept of the dérive, or drift, in which they tried to break out of common ways of experiencing things by generating new encounters and occurrences. We wanted Sofia to inhabit the attitude of the Situationists in the way she approached the museum and the artworks. Because of this, she uses the artworks as generators for her own creations, such as playlists, collages, or performances.

Pick up a Model Your Visit map on your next trip to the MCA and explore the museum yourself through the interests of each character and their different prompts, activities, and questions.

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Doris Salcedo featured on WTTW

Posted March 5, 2015

Cocurators of Doris Salcedo, Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Curator, and Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the MCA, both spoke with WTTW’s Chicago Tonight program about the first retrospective of Doris Salcedo’s artwork and the themes and ideas that guide her work. Watch the video for Julie Rodrigues Widholm’s insights into the exhibition and Salcedo’s practice, and visit WTTW’s website for the full interview with Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn.

WTTW: Doris Salcedo has been an acclaimed artist for quite some time. Why now for this first-ever retrospective and why Chicago?

Madeleine Grynsztejn: It seems that her work is even more relevant now than when she started. The work that she creates focuses basically on violent conflict and victims who lose their place. It portends the larger economic and political shifts shaping our world. The works are reflective of the upheavals, not only in Bogota, Colombia where she was born and works, but also in different parts of the world. We don’t have to look very far to see where people are people dehumanized and where social contracts are being broken.

Read the full interview on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight webpage.

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How Many Stories in the MCA?

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Posted March 3, 2015

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The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has four stories—floors—open to the public. On those floors, there are many more stories to experience in the other sense of the term: there are artworks with something to tell us, powerful performances to witness, multiple types of events to enjoy, many different kinds of learning, meaning, insight, fun, and serious contemplation to pursue. The question becomes how museum interpreters and educators can help audiences engage more satisfyingly with the museum and all that it has to offer. Susan Musich, Programmer of Education: Interpretative Practices, explains the story of how the MCA’s web application 4 Stories emerged as an exciting means to provide multiple levels of access to the MCA.

As museum interpreters and educators, we are always looking for new ways to share the artworks, and the stories behind them, with our visitors. One way we do this is through a new website developed through a partnership between the MCA’s Education and Publishing Departments: 4 Stories. The website allows us to present a wide range of interpretative information that speaks to visitors of all ages and invites them to experience contemporary art and culture interactively, whether they want to go deeply into a particular topic or skim the surface of the museum’s offerings in fun ways.

Unfolding the Foldout

For many years, the MCA’s Education department offered printed “activity guides” for families. These sheets, which were usually foldout fliers, focused on a single exhibition and provided ideas for how children might access the artworks more vividly. In other words, they did not consider the MCA as a coherent whole, and were exclusively geared towards young visitors. Recently, however, as notions of what a museum might do to connect audiences to art have expanded—as part of a larger initiative to provide more, and different, types of interpretive offerings to visitors—we began to think about how the digital platform might transform the printed activity guide. The result? 4 Stories, which, as its name suggests, presents a rotating selection of information from each of the museum’s levels: one “story” for each “story” of the building.

4storiesplace

We imagine 4 Stories as a new kind of activity guide, a web-based, interactive, multimedia publication for all generations. It harnesses the capacities of the digital domain to support the many ways in which people learn. Some people look, some read, some listen. We sought to create a platform for all these entrance points into contemporary art and culture. The website fits with our move as a whole to increase opportunities for audiences to learn about art informally, through actively doing as well as passively viewing. The website mirrors our broader efforts to create social and participatory programs that provide a wealth of information and interpretation, but are not pedantic, or even traditionally didactic, in nature.

For instance, while 4 Stories has plenty of rich and informative content that relates specifically to works on view at the MCA, it also includes new elements such as a “Try this” section, giving visitors opportunities to engage with contemporary art and culture in unexpected ways outside the museum. This mirrors our efforts, not only digitally but everywhere, to add new dimensions to the experience of visiting the MCA: we have created new kinds of maps and timelines; we have set aside space for reading areas and created brochures, broadsheets, and “takeaways” for our exhibition spaces; and, perhaps most relevantly for the digital domain, we have vastly increased our use of audio and video.

One Museum, Many Stories
Another major shift in our thinking with 4 Stories was to focus on multiple exhibitions instead of just one. We conducted visitor research and found that people often come to the MCA as a destination, not to see a specific exhibition (our recent David Bowie Is blockbuster being an exception). Visitors to the MCA frequently asked why we did not have printed activity guides for all exhibitions on display. But including content from multiple exhibitions presented a problem for the print format since shows continually rotate in and out. How might we best retain the most beloved aspects of the printed activity guides—their ease of use, their wonderful design, their informative content—while addressing these concerns?

The more fluid and modular nature of the digital environment enabled us to address a far wider range of what was on view at the museum at one time and to make archival documents from the past more readily available. But we purposely made 4 Stories look and feel like current popular website designs, so that it echoed, in digital form, the feeling of familiarity, ease-of-use, and the other pleasures of our printed activity guides. The goal is not to create some disorienting breakthrough in digital design, but rather to use the digital to connect visitors to all that the MCA has to offer. An example of how the website achieves this emerged around the recent Chicago Works exhibition of Sarah and Joseph Belknap’s work.

To the Moon with the Belknaps
Artists Sarah and Joseph Belknap create eerie sculptures that reflect their interest in astronomy. Their works move between the science, existential personal experiences, and larger social and political meanings of outer space. They create “moon skins” from silicon rubber and simulated lunar regolith—a synthetic approximation of moon dust, more commonly used by scientific researchers. These sculptures end up looking like deflated models of planets. Thinking about how 4 Stories might allow visitors to engage with the art of the Belkaps, we decided to focus on the materials and processes the couple use for their Moon Skins. We assumed most people would not know what moon skins or exoplanets are, nor would they be knowledgeable about the particulars of the moons of Jupiter from which the Belknaps draw inspiration. So in 4 Stories, we provided information that was at once informative and accessible. Our goal was to give visitors more expertise and to do so in a fun and welcoming way that allowed them to connect not only with the final products produced by the Belknaps, but also with their choices, processes, and thinking as art makers.

4 Stories Belknaps

4 Stories on desktop browser

With 4 Stories, we provided a journey not just to the stars, but also to . . . the Belknaps’ Chicago studio. Our digital production crew visited the Belknaps where they make the Moon Skins and we included footage from that visit so people could get a first-hand look at the processes they used in creating their artworks. We also included a link to the Belknap’s website for further exploration. And, with the help of colleagues in Family and Youth Programs, we developed activities so that visitors could continue their engagement with the exhibition at home through “Try this” suggestions, such as how one might notice or even create their own moldings of objects. We also included “Fun facts” about planets and a “Discover more” section with information for both the novice and the expert. Our design team enhanced the entire story with creative, colorful graphics that bring the information alive as multimedia material.

This was one example of how 4 Stories offers new ways for MCA audiences of all ages to enhance their experiences of the museum’s rich offerings online as well as in person. We look forward to continuing the digital capacities of 4 Stories to welcome visitors into the universe of contemporary art and culture. View every issue here.

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A Doris Salcedo Reader

Posted February 26, 2015

Istanbul1

Doris Salcedo
Untitled, 2003
1,550 wooden chairs
Approx. 33 x 20 x 20 ft. (10.1 x 6.1 x 6.1 m)
Ephemeral public project, 8th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, 2003
Photo: Sergio Clavijo

Many of our exhibitions are accompanied by a reading room, allowing visitors to sit, reflect, and learn more about the works on view. For Doris Salcedo, the exhibition’s reading room features books—chosen by the artist from her personal library—by poets, philosophers, and scholars who have informed her work.

Philosophy

Derrida, Jacques. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

———. Adiós a Emmanuel Levinas: Palabra de acogida. Translated by Julián Santos Guerrero. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 1998.

———. Espectros de Marx: El Estado de la deuda, el trabajo del duelo, y la nueva internacional. Translated by José Miguel Alarcón and Cristina de Peretti. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 1995.

———. Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Kelly, Michael. A Hunger for Aesthetics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Humanism of the Other. Translated by Nidra Poller. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

———. Humanismo del otro hombre. Translated by Daniel Enrique Guillot. Romero de Terreros, Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores, 1974.

———. Totalidad e infinito: ensayo sobre la exterioridad. Translated by Miguel García-Baró. Salamanca, Spain: Ediciones Sígueme, 2012.

———. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Corpus. Translated by Richard A. Rand. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.

———. The Ground of the Image. Translated by Jeff Fort. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.

Poetry

Celan, Paul. Obras Completas. Translated by José Luis Reina Palazón. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 1999.

———. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. Translated by John Felstiner. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Gelman, Juan. Dark Times Filled with Light: The Selected Work of Juan Gelman. Translated by Hardie St. Martin. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2012.

———. Otromundo: Antología 1956–2007. Edited by Eduardo Hurtado. Alcalá de Henares, Spain: Universidad de Alcalá Servicios de Publicaciones, 2008.

———. Unthinkable Tenderness: Selected Poems. Translated by Joan Lindgren. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Sociology

Gordon, Avery F. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Guerin, Frances, and Roger Hallas, eds. The Image and the Witness: Trauma, Memory, and Visual Culture. London: Wallflower Press, 2007.

Huyssen, Andreas. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

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acciondeduelo2

Above and below:
Doris Salcedo
Acción de Duelo, July 3, 2007
Candles
Approx. 267 x 350 ft.
(81.4 x 106.7 m)
Ephemeral public project, Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá, 2007
Photo: Sergio Clavijo

A major aspect of Doris Salcedo’s artistic output is her large-scale, public art installations, designed only to be on view for a limited amount of time. An unforgettable experience in person, they are now only available through documentation and memories. As part of the Doris Salcedo exhibition, which opened February 21, we’ve included all of Salcedo’s public works on our microsite as well as in our documentary video. We’re even more fortunate that Maria Carrasquilla, who works in our administration department, had participated in Acción de Duelo in 2007 and wanted to share her experience.

We all get used to certain habits, for better or worse. As we say in Colombia “We are animals of customs,” meaning that we all have our well-established, inherited, or willingly acquired habits. Over time, we eventually get used to the things that we’ve lived with by chance, or acquired by choice, and we can adjust sooner or later to nearly any given situation until it becomes a normal part of our routine.

Growing up in a country that has been afflicted by an armed conflict since before I was born, I became used to knowing and seeing people killed, kidnapped, or forced to leave their homes. The war on drugs has also proven to be ineffective in many ways for us and for our neighboring countries. Even though we as Colombians are fully aware that the violent events that take place in our country are horrifying and unacceptable, for the majority of us, it has become a part of our daily routine. We are the passive observers of a social and political crisis—an unfortunate habit we’ve acquired.

This violence has become a monster with many limbs, one that has managed to prevail for more than 60 years, feeding on illegal and terrorist activities and human lives; blocking our inherent natural and intellectual possibilities for national and economic growth. We have gotten used to that too. It is worth mentioning, though, that the Colombian government and the Colombian guerrillas are currently working on negotiating a peace treaty, and that violence today is not manifested in the same way or with the same intensity as it did 10 years ago. In a very positive sense this is the closest that Colombia has come to reaching certain agreements that could create a broader sense of safety and peace, and that gives us hope.

I was studying art at the Universidad de los Andes when I participated in Doris Salcedo’s intervention at the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá, the city that both Salcedo and I grew up in. I was familiar with some of her work and had attended one of her lectures at a local university, the Univeridad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. I recall her explaining that the word experience comes from the latin experiri which means “to cross over danger.” I will always remember that about her.

The Plaza de Bolívar is surrounded by four buildings: The Palace of Justice is on the north side. Straight across, on the south side of the Plaza, is the National Capitol, where the congress of the Colombian Republic meets, and just behind that is the Palace of Nariño, where the president lives. A Catholic cathedral is located on the east side, and on the west side is the Liévano Palace, where the mayor of the city works. Doris Salcedo was walking past the National Capitol when I saw her, easily recognizable due to her distinct, voluminous black hair.

Doris Salcedo  Acción de Duelo, July 3, 2007  Candles  Approx. 267 x 350 ft. (81.4 x 106.7 m)   Ephemeral public project, Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá, 2007  Photo: Sergio Clavijo  Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Alexander and Bonin, New York; and White Cube

I can’t remember exactly how, or why, or with whom I went with to participate in Acción de Duelo, but I do remember knowing that this installation was an homage to the victims of violence in Colombia, and it felt that way. There was a respectful silence that was so loudly heard throughout the Plaza. The day was becoming night; one of the many beautiful sunsets in Bogotá was displaying its array of oranges, pinks, reds, and yellows. La Plaza de Bolívar is a very large area and it was full of thick, white candles, placed on the ground. I wouldn’t be able to say how many there were, maybe more than a thousand. Strangers were passing along matches and lighters to light the candles with. The flames were affected by the strong winds that blow in between the eastern and western mountains. We had to light the candles several times, sharing fire and silence. It was a very special opportunity—to be together and to feel as if we were doing something meaningful for our country.

The installation Acción de Duelo was a space created for thought and for remembrance. It was an invitation to shift our routine in a different direction outside of our own habits, heads, and comfort zones. It was an invitation to stop feeling powerless and busy and actually do something within our reach to manifest support, defiance, and sadness. All of us who were present there that evening had experienced violence in different ways and we all mourned accordingly.

Today I see photos of this installation, and Doris Salcedo’s work in general, as a silence that speaks louder than many words, perhaps a prelude to meaningful dialogues about art, our present realities, and social change. I see her artworks as actions that carry our story and make it more visible; a reminder of our sometimes regrettable human condition. It is important to listen and to learn from these silent voices, because they let us know that there are different ways, powerful ways, of representing the stories, and speaking up for the people who do not have the means, either by chance or by choice, to do so themselves.

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