AUGUST 22 – SEPTEMBER 26, 2009
Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 – 6:00
SAIC Sullivan Galleries
Sullivan. 36 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60603
Featuring work by:
Sreshta Rit Premnath
and Stephanie Syjuco
curated by Beth Capper, Paige Johnson, Ariel Pittman and Kelly Shindler
The first decade of the 21st century has brought pronounced changes to daily experience: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the dot-com bust, the Euro, the election of Barack Obama, and the recent economic collapse, to name a few. As a result or perhaps a side effect of globalization and Web 2.0, we find ourselves increasingly connected to infrastructures and each other. Yet, as individuals negotiating persistently divisive politics, increasingly mediated experiences, religious and secular confrontations, environmental decay, and ever-smaller assets, we cannot help but feel detached. Amidst the confusion and political missteps of the past nine years, artists in particular have found themselves struggling with feelings of both apathy and elation, connectedness and isolation. At a time when making a political statement seems once again vital, the ability to make meaning for oneself or the public has become an increasingly bewildering endeavor.
This exhibition takes its name from Benjamin Franklin’s response to John Hancock on the occasion of the signing of the Declaration of Independence that, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.” This statement, a call to the other signers to maintain unity even in the face of likely violent retribution by the British, seems particularly apt in the present moment– a time in which we are experiencing a rhetorical shift away from division and toward unity. In the contemporary moment, the call to “hang together,” reflects the pervasive desire for real, human connections that provide a sense of community and support in real time. Whether on a local or global scale, our notions of community and relationships have changed with the evolution of social media. In the colloquial sense, hanging together implies that a group not only provides support to its members, but spends time being together, in person. Many pieces in the exhibition directly or indirectly express a desire to generate opportunities to “hang” with others while crafting faux designer handbags, marching as activists, or exploring identity over a shared meal.
The artists in this exhibition all seek to reconcile the chaotic politics of the moment within their practice. Their work proposes new possibilities for engagement and attempts to breathe new life into political art-making. Their approaches range from the subtle to the aggressive, but the work is connected by a notable sensitivity to the role of individual experience within that of a larger community or body politic. In work that poses more questions than answers, these artists ask: How can we begin to we bridge our divisions? Is it possible to engage meaningfully with others both near and far? How can we make sense of our place in the world, regardless of the political climate in which we live? And in light of all of this, is it possible to transcend difference in pursuit of empathy?
What unites the work in We Must Indeed All Hang Together is a difficult and multi-faceted investigation into what the political is in this moment when old answers no longer apply, and promises of change have yet to materialize. These artists present a range of statements and questions that debate the mundane gestures of generosity, self-reflection, engagement, inclusion, exclusion, and empathy. Presenting a unique sensitivity and poignancy with which to confront the realities of the modern world, these artists, implicitly or explicitly, reach for ways in which we might find a tract of common ground. Ultimately, we can come to understand their vision of what we might call “the political” as an all-encompassing, profoundly social umbrella defined more by small concerns than large ones.
About the work:
Elijah Burgher extends the notion of solitude back to a communion with nature. In his paintings “The Danger in Waiting” (2009) and “Preface (Idyll Name of Nought)” (2009), his chromatic fantasies of queer “man-boys” excluded from mainstream society but living in magical confluence with each other suggest a new mythology for men, both powerful and dangerous.
By creating composite, reconfigured, and imagined maps, Rachelle Cohen constructs utopian geographies with political and emotional boundaries. Her painting “Without Defenses” (2008) is a contemporary Pangaea, an idealized prospect of peace for a lost population, while “Imposition” (2008), a map of Iraq fashioned by collaged U.S. Interstate signs, attests to a darker, more present reality.
In his striking photographic series Departure (2007), Daniel Everett dramatizes the isolation we experience in the banal “non-places” of twenty-first century transport. Ostensibly designed to link individuals together, these airports, train stations, and parking lots refract and magnify the hidden loneliness induced when visited out of context—or at least outside of regular business hours. Elsewhere in the exhibition, his playful banners “Search Queries II (Self-Esteem – How To?)” (2009) and “Search Queries III (Is There Something Meaningful?)” (2009) utilize phrases from Google searches that led to Everett’s own website to humorously communicate experiences and states of being we all desperately crave.
Sharon Hayes draws parallels between the sense of loss we experience when relationships breakdown and when political systems go awry. In her sound installation, “I March In The Parade Of Liberty, But So Long As I Love You I Am Not Free” (2008), she adopts the tropes of political speeches, in love letters she reads aloud in public, in order to communicate her individual feelings about the war in Iraq and gay rights in America.
In her video diptych “How Dare You Call Me Un-American / An American Tale” (2008), Jesse Jagtiani juxtaposes an unconventional Thanksgiving Feast with street interviews conducted during the 2008 presidential elections in order to investigate whether individual voices can come together to achieve political unity.
In her installation “The Ambassadors” (2008), Rachel Mason sculpts humorous replicas of world leaders and imagines herself as one of them in an attempt to empathize with the politically empowered. To contextualize the work, a video of Mason performing songs written about these world leaders accompanies her figurines.
This exhibition features a new commission by UIC film graduate Jesse Mclean. “The Relation” plays on the trope of the spinning newspaper, a cinematic device for heralding change, where a newspaper spins in and out of view without ever being perceptible. Are propositions of change always deferred or is hope just around the corner?
Drawing on a visual lexicon of political strategies and classic film, Sreshta Rit Premnath confronts forms of power and representation. In his installation “Infinite Threat, Infinite Regress” (2008), the viewer is caught in a paranoid labyrinth of invisible enemies, a tense and claustrophobic environment of fluctuating threat levels and disquieting sounds.
Luke Stettner’s work presents precise and private examinations of the self and personal histories. “You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees” (2009) presents the textual manifestation of this aphorism, through the form of the trace. Elsewhere, “Untitled” (2009) records his grandfather’s first impressions of the United States as an immigrant, infinitely reflected in a sea of mirrors.
Stephanie Syjuco considers the byproducts of “illicit capitalism”—bootlegs, knock-offs, and the reworked commodity—to address her own subjectivity within the forces of politics, global economics, capitalism, and the corporate culture machine, while maintaining a belief that transformation and regeneration are a possible future. Her piece, “Towards a New Theory of Color Reading (El Dia, Houston Forward Times, Manila Headline)” (2008), transforms the content of three Houston, TX based minority newspapers from the week of the 2008 presidential election into Bauhaus inspired abstractions that encourage the reader to process the content presented by the media through a critical lens. Syjuco’s work also addresses issues of capitalism, production and meaningful collaboration. Her piece, “Counterfeit Crochet” (2006- ongoing) is a global collaboration with crafters to produce counterfeit copies of designer handbags. Syjuco cites a mimicking of both outsourcing, contemporary manufacturing processes and anarchic creativity as inspiration for this work.