Talk Show

Critical Mass was an exhibition at the Smart Museum in Chicago curated by Stephanie Smith (April 25 - June 23 2002). The exhibition brought together artists from different generations, living in Chicago, whose practices are critical and times activist. Participating artists included Wendy Jacob and Laurie Palmer, members of the Chicago-based artists' collective Haha and respectively Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Associate Professor of Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Robert Peters, Associate Professor of Art at the University of Chicago; Gregory Sholette, a founding member of the collective RepoHistory and Chair of the Department of Arts Administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Temporary Services, a group that includes Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin, Marc Fischer, and Lora Lode.

After having met Stephanie Smith in San Francisco earlier in the year, we wanted to respond to Critical Mass by introducing practices from the UK into the exhibition. We wanted to encourage a critical discussion between practices in the UK and the US and find out more about the different legacies that lead to these different modes of working. We also wanted to discover the overlaps and links between projects.

We were able to travel to Chicago with two artists and four projects. Amy Plant and Maurice O'Connell presented their projects Contact and the Penryn Valley Project, respectively. We also took documentation on two other projects which were in progress at the time: Occasional Sights by Anna Best and Cubes by Kathrin Böhm, Andreas Lang and Nicoline van Harskamp.

The project was an experiment in transporting and translating these four process-based, unfinished projects to a different site, far away from their original context. It was hoped that this would allow the artists and the projects to develop further and take on new directions. In order to convey the complex processes and collaborations that underlie these projects we thought it would be beneficial to represent the projects both visually in amongst the existing work in Critical Mass and through presentation and discussion:

Contact by Amy Plant

Contact is a website that brings together the views and experiences of audiences and participants to the North London Link, a series of eight public art projects commissioned by Camden Arts Centre, London (1998-2000). The maps of the website and documentation from the other seven projects were displayed in the gallery.

Occasional Sights by Anna Best

This alternative guide book to London was in progress when we presented it in to Chicago. The maps, and sketch book that we displayed traced the process of collecting these occasional sights. We also interviewed Anna about the project and screened the footage in the gallery. You can now buy the completed publication, Occasional Sights (contact the Photographer's Gallery below for more information).

Cubes by Kathrin Böhm, Andreas Lang and Nicoline van Harskamp

This was a proposal developed for the Pembury Estate in North London after a series of interventions and consultations with residents. The ten self-build Cubes were to be used by different groups in the public spaces on the Estate. Documentation of the interventions and preparation were shown along side the plans for the Cubes in the gallery.

Penryn Valley Project by Maurice O'Connell

This is an ongoing project in Penyrn, Cornwall initiated by Maurice O'Connell in 2002. The artist is devising alternative approaches to regeneration. By using interventions, events and getting involved in local politics as an artist he hopes to encourage residents to devise their own plans and proposals. This methodology is in contrast to regeneration led by big budget entertainment centres which dictate the economics and identity of a town. Minutes from meetings, local press and photos of the town were presented in the gallery.

Projects in Critical Mass included a research project by Temporary Services which involved a collage of media images, t-shirts, banners and record covers, all depicting different notions of 'community'. This was accompanied by a selection of booklets by Temporary Services which had more detailed interviews and texts about collectives, such as Into the Gravy by G.W. Sok of the punk rock band, The Ex. Haha (Laurie Palmer and Wendy Jacob) presented an ongoing archive of disused land in Chicago. The archive documents each plot and how it has been used over the years, revealing the intense amount of local self-organised activity to reclaim the disused land for making allotments and holding social events. This project highlighted the act of reclaiming the right to regenerate urban space as a local resident which has links to Maurice's Penryn Valley Project.

Talk Show and Critical Mass culminated in a discussion on the final day of the exhibition which focused mainly on the use of the institution as a site for display and communication. Many of the artists were not interested in institutional critique, but were aware of the gallery as another politically charged public space from which to base their temporary interventions.

The trip to Chicago also involved many informal meetings and excursions around the different parts of Chicago - through the 'no-go' areas around the University of Chicago where the Smart Museum was based, swimming in the sea and lazing on the beach on the south side of city. We heard stories of why only the shell remains of Dan Peterman's 'building' which burnt down the year before and made it up to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Centre with a hang over to die from.

On our return we reported back to those who could not make it Chicago. We told stories and made connections about our trip at the Allotment Archive in Southwalk, a temporary base for Caroline Jupp and Tara Sampy who were developing an archive of experiences, histories of allotments in the area - again, a relevant link to the ways in which artists in Chicago are mapping the exploration of land use in urban space.



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