In anticipation of 21Minus this Saturday, Mia Neumann, a first-year Teen Creative Agency member, reflects on her experience both designing the event and collaborating on her project.
I first heard about the Teen Creative Agency when my best friend, Gracee Wallach, told me she was proposing a project for an event called 21Minus. She was ecstatic about the opportunity to show her art, which was very powerful and personal, even though she did not consider herself a practicing artist. The guidance that she was given, along with the incredible platform the TCA provided, was unmatched.
Watching Gracee and the other artists that day inspired me; and my curiosity about the teens running the event led me to search for information about the program and how to join. I knew I needed to be a part of whatever had made something as magical as 21Minus happen and I couldn’t wait to learn more about it.
The day I was accepted into the Teen Creative Agency, now almost a year ago, was also the day I came up with a concept I wanted to explore and bring to the 21Minus festivities.
I was sitting in my room embroidering poetry into old T-shirts for a series I was working on called “Hanging Up My Dirty Laundry” and the idea of creating this same process for the masses came to mind.
I wanted to create a space where barriers are broken down between strangers, and where tensions can safely be released due to the anonymity and the openness of the experience. So, I proposed the idea of creating a therapeutic public art installation titled Dirty Laundry for 21Minus. In my series, this mechanism for sharing thoughts was really moving for me. By inviting the audience to “air out” their covert thoughts through a transcription of their baggage onto fabric, I hope to create an environment where the audience can appreciate each other, participate in a therapeutic process, and dissipate the stress that secrets can have on their conscience.
Dirty Laundry will be presented alongside 24 others works by young artists who answered the TCA’s call to collaborate for 21Minus. With the support of my fellow TCA members, we have worked to refine these ideas and I’m excited to see all of them brought to life on May 30, after seeing this intense process unfold. The passion that flows through the members of the TCA and the artists in preparation for this event could only mean that the final product will be unimaginable.
Working behind the scenes to create the event as a TCA member while also developing a project as a collaborator provides an interesting lens. As both a curator and a creator I am able to help shape the backbone of this remarkable coming together of young artists. At the same time, I am also discovering what it means to bring your ideas as an individual artist to a larger, group effort.
Besides the lifelong friendships I’ve formed with people I met only eight months ago, the opportunities and experiences I’ve gained from the Teen Creative Agency are truly unforgettable.
Come, be inspired, and see every artistic collaboration this Saturday, from 2–6 pm.
The preparation for 21Minus has been filled with an abundance of great ideas, organizing, and planning—lots of planning. It is a major collaborative effort that involves the 25 TCA members, many steps, and many months of work.
Step 1: Put out the call to artists and select collaborators
Earlier this year, we put out a call to other young artists to submit proposals that would activate and engage the museum and its visitors with a fresh, young voice. We reviewed all submissions and accepted our finalists. Altogether, we are developing 25 projects by over 50 young artists that will be featured at the event.
Step 2: Curate and refine projects
Organizing the proposals of wildly different and creative artists was the most difficult aspect of planning. The first thing we did was break into five “curatorial teams” that would be responsible for developing one part of the event: Plaza Spectacle has been working with welcoming, attention-grabbing projects on the plaza; Audience Activated has been handling interactive experiences; Conceptual Performance has been working with performance art; Theater Team has been overseeing performances/workshops in the MCA’s Edlis Neeson Theater; and my group, Classroom of the Future, has been handling a set of projects around nontraditional learning. Each team has taken on four or five projects and a big part of our work so far has been to shape and refine those projects with the artists to make them the best they can be.
As a curatorial team we also had to figure out how each project related to one another. My team’s projects range from aluminum foil sculpting to zine-making to a #BlackLivesMatter discussion, making this goal a bit difficult. So we went through each project and rattled off what made them different or what the project wanted to achieve. This exercise made us realize that every group just wanted to show that anyone can be a teacher and everyone is always a student. Because of this, the Classroom of the Future’s overall goal is to experiment with the teacher-student dynamic in a way that does not happen in a traditional classroom. While it seemed difficult at first, all it took was figuring out the connecting thread from each group to the Classroom’s goal to make them all fit perfectly. This was the process almost every team went through to form an overall “pitch” and a more specific theme for each proposal in their group.
Step 3–5: Figure out the nuts and bolts
After we figured out our overarching themes, we needed to figure out the minor details. This planning has been way more in-depth: where each person, art work, band, workshop, and discussion would be located in the museum and at what time; how much staff is necessary; what materials are needed. Most of the planning days have been long, but they drew us closer to the final decisions for each project.
Step 6–9: Put it all together
As the ideas and logistics for our team’s projects were finalized, we all came back together to see the big picture of what 21Minus would actually look like and how it would flow overall. Hearing every team’s progress and final decisions made 21Minus seem real, not just in planning. We got one step closer to having everything in place for 21Minus. One step closer to having all our planning come into actuality when all of these amazing projects come together.
Step 10: Join us!
Come and see how all of our planning has taken shape at 21Minus on May 30 from 2 to 6 pm.
Want to be part of the 21Minus planning process for next year? Applications for the TCA are open. Apply now!
Something has gone terribly wrong.
This is where the art of Doris Salcedo and Keren Cytter begins. From there, the work of these two artists, who currently have exhibitions at the MCA, diverges. Salcedo focuses narrowly on specific historical moments of political violence committed against the underprivileged or oppressed; Cytter roams expansively across the vibe and feel of cosmopolitan life in the media-satured worlds of relatively affluent urban dwellers. Salcedo’s tone is somber and earnest; Cytter’s is loopy and irreverent. Salcedo’s materials are mostly sculptural and tangible, even when they reach to outline the contours of the vanished, the lost, the remembered, the murdered. Cytter’s materials are largely intangible. With Salcedo, we experience wooden furniture, cement, cloth, dirt, grass. With Cytter, we experience spliced video, cheap computer effects, recycled movie scripts and plots, doodles on paper.
It is worth noting that as with Salcedo, murders occur in Cytter’s work too. Violence skims across the surface of much of her artworks while, by contrast, it does something more like haunt Salcedo’s sculptural installations from deep within. Cytter reminds us how numb to violence media’s stale narrative techniques can make us—how unreal media can make violence feel. Her art evokes Susan Sontag’s argument that photography and other forms of media may seem to publicize violence, but in doing so, they generate apathy more than outrage (or sometimes an apathetic mode of outrage and an outrageous level of apathy). Salcedo’s art, in comparison, seeks to pierce through this numbness, to make real even what can never be recovered after political violence: lost love ones, safety and security, bodily and material wholeness. Her work trims away at the excess in search of an intensified core of loss, which in order to be experienced as loss, must also be experienced as survival. Keren Cytter adds and adds to her work in search of an intensified feeling of eerie absurdity. Her videos move, skitter, jump nonsensically. They have action, but the action ultimately seems to be about paralysis, the ways in which plots move forward but we, the spectators, stay in place. Couch potatoes to a killing.
Salcedo’s work is also about nonsense, the nonsense of political violence, but it attempts to recover some kind of meaning, some register of understanding in the face of slaughter. If Cytter wants to remind us that our normality as dictated by TV shows, films, and digital media barely masks madness, Salcedo suggests that even our most material and basic things—tables, chairs, dressers, shoes, dolls, shirts—terrify but also bring us back to the sanity of the real in the face of the untenably horrible. Both artists ask us to look, and most of all not to look away, in the aftermath of traumas big and small; to sense senselessness; to be a spectator while also questioning what spectatorship involves—and what it demands.
These are exhibitions that project extremely different tones and put the viewer in almost opposite moods. To get to witness them together at the MCA is a reminder both of how widely very different styles of art can range across shared themes—and also how sometimes they converge on one compelling topic, in this case the pressing issue of how we respond to violence in the modern world.
In April 1975, the MCA presented what has now been recognized as one of Burden’s most seminal and controversial performances, Doomed. Organized in conjunction with the exhibition Bodyworks and curated by Ira Licht, Burden’s performance was one of four artist events that took place at 237 East Ontario Street, the MCA’s first location. Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, and Dennis Oppenheim were also invited to perform in the galleries. Licht conceived the exhibition as a reflection on what he described as the growing practice of artists using their bodies as a means of performative expression. Licht viewed Bodyworks as connected to, but distinct from, Happenings and performance art, because the content of the work was often intimately personal—the artist’s physical body “bears the content and is both subject and means of aesthetic expression.”1
Following Burden’s earlier performances—which include Five Day Locker Piece and Shoot (both 1971); Deadman (1972); Through the Night Softly (1973); and the 22-day performance at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts gallery in New York, White Light/White Heat (1975), in which the artist lay prone on an elevated flat triangular platform in the corner of the gallery for the duration of the exhibition without eating, drinking, talking, or coming down—it isn’t surprising that the MCA took out a life insurance policy on the artist prior to his April appearance. That said, in keeping with the museum’s experimental ethos, the staff provided Burden with the minimal materials he had requested in advance, and embraced the uncertainty of what was to come.
Burden entered the MCA’s gallery around 8:20 pm on Friday, April 11, 1975. In his words, the performance “consisted of three elements: myself, an institutional wall clock, and a 5-by-8-foot sheet of plate glass. The sheet of glass was placed horizontally and leaned against the wall at a 45-degree angle; the clock was placed to the left of the glass at eye level. When the performance began, the clock was running at the correct time. I entered the room and reset the clock to twelve midnight.”2
There was a huge crowd of visitors and spectators at the beginning of the performance and media coverage (print, local and national broadcasts) increased the longer that Burden remained under the glass. At some point on Saturday, museum employee Dennis O’Shea (currently the MCA’s Manager of Technical Production) rented a video camera and began documenting the performance. This video document was preserved, and although it is not available for public use at this time, it is held in the MCA Archives and available as a reference for scholars.
When I asked O’Shea why he started recording the performance and why he took it upon himself to stay with Burden for the duration of the piece, he said that he knew something profoundly significant was taking place: “It was in the air. No one knew what it was exactly, but that lack of clarity was, in some ways, a part of what made Burden’s piece so exciting.” O’Shea described the atmosphere of the museum as one in which there was a real sense of community—the museum stayed open all night on Friday and Saturday (much to Burden’s surprise and ultimate dismay). O’Shea described the atmosphere as akin to a vigil and said that there was an air of reverence around Burden’s presence in the space. Because no one at the MCA knew how the piece would end, everyone was implicated in the work.
As Burden explained: “I was prepared to lie in this position indefinitely, until one of the three elements was disturbed or altered. The responsibility for ending the piece rested with the museum staff, but they were unaware of this crucial aspect. The piece ended when Dennis O’Shea placed a container of water inside the space between the wall and the glass, 45 hours and 10 minutes after the start of the piece. I immediately got up and smashed the face of the clock with a hammer, recording the exact time which had elapsed from beginning to end.”3 Interestingly, this marked the ending of the body of performance-based work for which Burden is so well known.
While Burden knew that the museum was unaware of the terms of the work, it seems clear that he simultaneously embraced the consequences of this uncertainty and expected that the museum would stop the performance when the galleries normally closed on Friday evening. After the piece ended, Burden said that he “kept thinking that the museum wasn’t worried about me and they’ve decided that if my intent is to, you know, die of thirst or something, then they’re going to go along with it.”4 One of the most powerful aspects of watching the documentation of Burden’s performance is the way that this tension—between the artist’s intent and the obligations of the museum—played out in an atmosphere that was designed to support the most radical work being made at the time.
After talking with O’Shea yesterday about his recollections of the weekend, I am struck by the fact that the duration of the work was not simply delimited by his final intervention into the performance space. Early on that Sunday morning, hours before the piece ended at 5:20 pm, O’Shea approached Burden and asked if he was hungry. He said that Burden looked up at him and smiled broadly, but remained in his prone position. O’Shea’s decision to bring the empty coffee pot and carafe of water was the result of his experience of being with, and caring for, the artist for the 45 hours that Burden was in the galleries.
In the wake of Burden’s death, the video documentation of Doomed strikes me as even more poignant. The questions the work raises in its explorations of durational performance, the possibility of death and the limitations of the human body, and the consequences of intervention are not only relevant to the piece as a work of art, but to the way in which Doomed profoundly affected, and implicated, all who were present.
Dennis O’Shea has continued to work at the MCA, in part, because of what he has described as the meaningful experience of interacting with contemporary artists as well as their work. In so many ways, it is this kind of experience—which shows the capacity that art and artists have to profoundly affect our lives—that makes the ending of Doomed so impactful. In O’Shea’s words: “In all of my years at the museum, I’ve never participated in an event that captured the imagination of a city in the way that Chris Burden’s Doomed did. It changed the way I see things to this day.”
1. Ira Licht, Bodyworks, exh. cat. (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1975), n.p.
2. Chris Burden in Chris Burden: A Twenty-Year Survey, exh. cat. (Newport Beach: Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1988), 74.
4. Video documentation by Dennis O’Shea of Chris Burden’s Doomed, 1975, MCA Library and Archives.
Since the summer of 2011, when they made their debut at Wicker Park Fest, the poets of Poems While You Wait have been subverting the cliché of the solitary writer toiling in obscurity by bringing themselves—and their typewriters—to public places throughout the city of Chicago and composing commissioned poetry on demand for strangers. The process is simple: the customer signs up for a poem by requesting a subject of their choosing, typically paying a $5 per poem fee, and then waiting 10–15 minutes while one of the poets creates a custom-made, original poem to keep or to give away as a gift.
Over the past four years, the founding members of the group—Dave Landsberger, Eric Plattner, and Kathleen Rooney—have been joined by a rotating collective of local poets. Together, they have brought patrons all over the city—and in the suburbs— an unexpected and unpretentious encounter with poetry in public venues, ranging from the Adler Planetarium to the Garfield Park Conservatory to the Harold Washington Public Library to Dose Market to Randolph Street Market to all kind of neighborhood festivals, fundraisers, and events. They’ve even done a handful of weddings, aka Poems While You Wed.
A handful of the poems by that day’s participating poets is included here, and more can be found on the PWYW website. If you’re interested in learning more, please follow them at http://poemswhileyouwait.tumblr.com/ or contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.