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Conference: Black Collectivities

May 3–4, 2013

How do collaboratives created by cultural practitioners of African descent provide new perceptions, understandings, and forms of practice? This conference brings together key individuals from around the globe, including the Otolith Group, artists Theaster Gates and Rick Lowe, musician George Lewis, and Tate Gallery curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, among others, to broach this timely question. Organized by Huey Copeland, Associate Professor at Northwestern, and Naomi Beckwith at the MCA.

On Friday at the Block Museum, the Otolith Group and Rick Lowe provide the keynote conversation, moderated by Naomi Beckwith. All other speakers listed below are featured in conversations on Saturday at the MCA, along with a conference wrap up panel moderated by Huey Copeland.

Conference participants include:

Download the event poster (PDF)

Conference Schedule

Fri, May 3, 4–7 pm
Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art; 40 Arts Circle Dr; Evanston, IL 60208

4 pm – Screening: The Radiant with an introduction by The Otolith Group
5:15 pm – Introduction: Huey Copeland
5:30 pm – Opening Conversation: The Otolith Group and Rick Lowe, moderated by Naomi Beckwith

Sat, May 4, 10 am–5 pm
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; 220 E Chicago Ave; Chicago, IL 60611

10:15 am – Naomi Beckwith makes opening remarks
10:30 am – Panel 1: Elvira Dyangani Ose with a response by Blake Stimson
11:30 am – Panel 2: George Lewis with a response by John Corbett
12:30 pm – Q&A
1:00 pm – BREAK
2:30 pm – Panel 3: Claire Tancons with a response by Cauleen Smith
3:30 pm – Panel 4: Theaster Gates with a response by Romi Crawford
4:30 pm – Q&A

Sat, May 4, 6 pm
Arts Incubator; 301 E Garfield Blvd; Chicago, IL 60637

6 pm – Performance

Naomi Beckwith, the MCA’s Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator, was formerly the Associate Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem, where she focused on themes of identity and conceptual practices in contemporary art, artists of African descent, and managing the Artists-in-Residence program. Prior to her tenure at the Studio Museum, Beckwith was the 2005-07 Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, where she worked on numerous cutting-edge exhibitions including Locally Localized Gravity (2007), an exhibition and program of events focused on over 100 artists whose practices are social, participatory, and communal. Beckwith has also been the BAMart project coordinator at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a Helena Rubenstein Critical Studies Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and a guest blogger for Art21. She has curated and co-curated exhibitions at New York alternative spaces Recess Activities, Cuchifritos, and Artists Space. Beckwith received an MA with Distinction from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, completing her Master’s thesis on Adrian Piper and Carrie Mae Weems, and a BA in history from Northwestern University in Illinois. She was a 2009 grantee of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and was named the 2011 Leader to Watch by ArtTable. She serves on the board of the Laundromat Project (New York).

Huey Copeland (PhD, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley, 2006) is Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Art History with affiliations in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies. A regular contributor to Artforum, Copeland has also published in Art Journal, Callaloo, Parkett, Qui Parle, Representations, and Small Axe as well as in numerous edited volumes and international exhibition catalogues, including the award-winning Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art. Most notable among his forthcoming publications is Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (University of Chicago Press), a book funded by a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. The book, like much of Copeland’s work, derives from research into theories of subject formation, twentieth-century sculpture, histories of slavery, gender and sexual difference, site-specific practices, and African American cultural discourse.

John Corbett is a writer, curator, and gallerist based in Chicago. He has written extensively about music, particularly contemporary jazz and improvisation. From the early 1990s until 2005, he presented music at various venues in Chicago, including an annual festival at the Empty Bottle. In 2002 Corbett served as Artistic Director of the JazzFest Berlin. He is the author of Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein (Duke U. Press, 1994). Curatorial projects include an exhibition on the musician Sun Ra (co-curated with Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis) and an upcoming survey of Chicago’s Monster Roster artists of the postwar period. Corbett is one half of the gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago.

Romi Crawford, PhD is Associate professor of Visual Critical and Africana Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was previously the Curator and Director of Education and Public Programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her research and curatorial work revolve primarily around ideas of race and ethnicity and the relation to American film, aesthetic, and popular culture. Selected publications include Art Journal; Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Film and Video Artists (University of Washington); Black Light/White Noise: Sound and Light in Contemporary Art (Contemporary Art Museum Houston); Frequency (Studio Museum of Harlem); and Art and Social Justice Education: Culture as Commons (Routledge).

Elvira Dyangani Ose is a curator of international art at Tate Modern. She is currently completing her PhD in History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University, New York. She holds a Master’s degree in Theory and History of Architecture, and a BA degree in History of Art. As a curator, she has developed numerous interdisciplinary projects, focusing on the politics of representation, social and urban imaginaries, and the role of artists in history-making. Her recent curatorial projects have included solo exhibitions such as, Carrie Mae Weems: Social Studies (2010) and Nontsikelelo Veleko: Welcome to Paradise (2009); as well as interdisciplinary collective projects, Attempt to Exhaust an African Place (2007-8), Africalls? (2007) and Olvida quién soy/ Erase me from who I am (2006). She was general curator of the Arte invisible programme at ARCOmadrid, in 2009 and 2010. Previously, Dyangani Ose worked as curator at the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno and at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. She was invited as a guest curator to the triennial SUD-Salon Urbain de Douala in 2010, and is currently the Artistic Director of the third edition of Rencontres Picha. Biennale de Lubumbashi 2012/2013.

Kodwo Eshun is a British-Ghanaian writer, theorist, and filmmaker. He studied English Literature at Oxford University. He is currently course leader of the MA in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College. Eshun’s writing deals with cyberculture, science fiction, and music, with a particular focus on where these ideas intersect with the African Diaspora. He has contributed to a range of publications including the Guardian, The Face, The Wire, i-D, Melody Maker, Spin, Arena, Frieze, CR: The New Centennial Review, and 032c. Eshun’s book More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (1998) explores the intersection of black music and science fiction from an afrofuturist viewpoint. In 2002, Eshun co-founded The Otolith Group with Anjalika Sagar. The group’s work engages with archival materials, with futurity, and with the histories of transnationality. The group was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2010.

Theaster Gates has developed an expanded artistic practice that includes space development, object making, performance and critical engagement with many publics. Founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation, Gates is currently Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago. Recent exhibition and performance venues include Locust Projects, the Seattle Art Museum, Art Basel, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Armory Show and the Whitney Biennial in New York. Gates’ exhibition, 13th Ballad, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (May 18–Oct 6, 2013) extends the work he conceived for dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany. In 2012, Gates was awarded the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, honored by the Wall Street Journal as Arts Innovator of the Year, and became a USA Fellow. Gates has also received awards and grants from Creative Capital, the Joyce Foundation, Graham Foundation, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and Artadia. He is represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago and White Cube in London.

George E. Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. The recipient of a 2002 MacArthur Fellowship, a 1999 Alpert Award in the Arts, a 2011 United States Artists Walker Fellowship, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lewis studied composition with Muhal Richard Abrams at the AACM School of Music, and trombone with Dean Hey. A member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, Lewis’s work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, text-sound works, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 140 recordings. His work has been presented by the American Composers Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Either/Or, Talea Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, Wet Ink, the Turning Point Ensemble, Ensemble Erik Satie, Orkestra Futura, and others, with commissions from the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, OPUS (Paris), IRCAM, Harvestworks, Studio Museum in Harlem, the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and others. His widely acclaimed book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) is a recipient of the American Book Award, and he is the co-editor of the forthcoming two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies.

Rick Lowe lives in Houston. He has exhibited and worked with communities nationally and internationally. His exhibitions includes; Contemporary arts Museum, Houston, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, Neuberger Museum, Purchase, New York, Phoenix Art Museum, Kwangji Bienale, Kwangji, Korea, the Kumamoto State Museum, Kumamoto, Japan, Venice Architecture Bienale. Nasher Sculpture Center, Dalas, TX. Cittadellarte, Biella, Italy, Community projects includes; Project Row Houses, Houston, Texas; Watts House Project, Los Angeles, CA; Arts Plan for Rem Koolhaus designed Seattle Public Library with Jessica Cusick; Borough Project for Spoleto Festival with Suzanne Lacy and Mary Jane Jacobs, Charleston, SC; Delray Beach Cultural Loop, Delray Beach, Florida, Anyang Public Art Program 2010, Anyang, Korea. Among Rick’s honors are; Rudy Bruner Awards in Urban Excellence; AIA Keystone Award, Heinz Award in the arts and humanities; Loeb Fellow at Harvard University; Skowhegan Governor’s Award; Skandalaris Award for Art/Architecture, and USA Artists Booth Fellow.

Anjalika Sagar studied social an-thropology at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. She is co-founder of The Otolith Group and the independent news network “Multitudes,” founded in 2002. She is interested in film essay and in the relationship between image, text and sound. Sagar works as a curator, moderator, essayist, film director, video-maker and photographer. Her extensive oeuvre has been shown at exhibitions all over the world.

Cauleen Smith grew up in Sacramento, California. She received her BA form the School of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University and her MFA from UCLA School of Theater-Television-Film. For the past several years Cauleen Smith has produced multi-channel film and video installations that incorporate sculptural objects and text. Her interests roam from her roots in structuralist filmmaking to afro-futurist narrative strategies. In 2012 Cauleen Smith was named Outstanding Artist by the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture. She has received grants from the Film Arts Foundation American Film Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, and Creative Capital. Her films and installations have shown at The Kitchen; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Nelson Atkins Museum of Art; as well as in film festivals in Milan, London, Paris, and Berlin.

Blake Stimson teaches contemporary art, the history of photography, and critical theory at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He has written for Artforum, October, Texte zur Kunst, Oxford Art Journal, Third Text, and New Left Review, among other publications, and his work has been translated into a number of languages. Recent books include The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation (MIT, 2006), Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945 (co-edited with Gregory Sholette, Minnesota, 2007), Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings (co-edited with Alexander Alberro, MIT, 2009), and Citizen Warhol (forthcoming from Reaktion).

Claire Tancons is curator, writer and researcher who focuses on carnival, public ceremonial culture, and popular movements. The associate curator for Prospect.1 New Orleans (2007-9), a curator for the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008), a guest curator for CAPE09 (2009), an associate curator for research for Biennale Bénin (2012) and, currently a curator for the Göteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2013) Tancons is developing alternative genealogies and methodologies for thinking and presenting performance. Tancons’s writings have appeared in NKA. Journal of Contemporary African Art; Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism; Third Text; e-flux; as well as in exhibition catalogues. She was the recipient of the 2012 inaugural Alice Award for Emerging Critic. A graduate in Museum Studies from Ecole du Louvre (1999) and in Art History from the Courtauld Institute (2000) and a former Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (2001), Tancons speaks frequently about her work at academic and art institutions and, since 2012, has been teaching a graduate curatorial seminar at IUAV University in Venice. Tancons is the recipient of a 2008 Andy Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellowship, 2009 Prince Claus Fund Artistic Production Grant and 2012 Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award among others. She is based in New Orleans and works in situ.


Made possible due to support from the Myers Foundations, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life Initiative, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern University Black Arts Initiative, The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Northwestern University Department of African American Studies, and The Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.