Monday, September 13, 2010

Still Action

Elissa Papendick and Libby O’Bryan, co-curators of “Still Action”
On view at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries through October 2

“Still Action” began with a shared interest in the artists’ process: the increasing prevalence of artists engaging in a practice of slow-, craft-, and process-based work. We wondered, what if this trend could shift from the maker to the viewer, or participant? Our question came from an intrigue in how the social and political shift of our culture has affected these art practices and what potential it has to influence its audience. We sought work for a fall exhibition in SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries that would challenge these ideas.

We were invited to participate in SAIC’s “Summer Studio,” a residency project at the Sullivan Galleries, to engage our curatorial process as studio practice. Embracing this opportunity of time and space, the six-week residency allowed for an intense period of research and interpretation of the concept that sparked our initial thoughts for this exhibition: still action – an idea introduced by anthropologist Nadia Seremetakis.

In her book Senses Still, Seremetakis explores an “anthropology of the senses,” privileging sensorial engagements of the everyday. Through stillness, the imperceptible becomes perceptible, allowing dismissed modes of understanding (partly resulting from fragmentation of labor and commoditization of goods) to be realized. In stillness is movement.

In order to broaden these ideas, challenge our perspective, and ultimately find artists to participate in our exhibition, we held an open call for conversations during “Summer Studio.” Through a process of unfolding, the printed invitation to participate revealed a brief summation of the still act and asked “What are still acts?” and “How can artists engage their viewer in still action? Close to forty artists, art historians, and art administrators from Chicago and beyond responded to our call.

With a full schedule of discussions, we considered how this curatorial process would take form during “Summer Studio”? How would we occupy the studio space during our residency? We felt the following were essential:

1) To embrace the shared, open studio environment of “Summer Studio” which would be filled with artists and administrators with whom we could visually present and share ideas.

2) To create an intimate space for private conversations which would engage and comfort our guests.

3) Ultimately, to embrace the duality of public and private – of making and thinking – of collaboration and independence.

In the way we wanted our concept to develop and expand, we wanted our studio space to mimic this process – much like the intricate unfolding required by our printed invitation. We presented this idea to architect Brandon Pass and he designed and built – along with Nick Bastis, our unfolding studio structure. A ten-inch thick suspended plywood “wall” deploys into a “Murphy bed” desk with storage and pin board on the public side. The wall hinges toward the gallery walls to delineate the conversation space with coat closet, small table, and access to folding chairs.

When a guest arrived at our studio, the structure was closed. We then asked the guest to assist in the labor of deployment; we thought this would be as fun for the guest as it had been for us! We learned from our guests that this aided in their transition into the present experience. Also, the investment of creating a stimulating and purposeful studio instilled our work with intention and integrity, and therefore, sincerity in the invitation for conversation. From this we learned the value of creating a thoughtful, enjoyable experience within the studio – for your collaborators, guests, and yourself – and how your studio can reflect and nurture the nature of your work.

We wanted to pursue an unconventional curatorial model, so we created an unconventional office. We wanted guests to feel comfortable, open and present, so we nestled them in with tea and treats. This physical environment was vital to our process. It gave the process a visual expression, and inspired interesting and often pleasantly unexpected reactions; it formed a personality for the work.

Elissa Papendick is currently pursuing a dual MA in Modern Art History, Theory & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy at SAIC, after receiving a BA in Environmental Studies and Art History from Oberlin College. Elissa continues to explore the role artists play in affecting positive environmental change, including creative remedies for polluted sites and strategies for urban agriculture. Elissa has worked with The Chicago Park District, The Joan Flasch Artists’ Collection, The Headlands Center for the Arts, and in curatorial and administrative positions.

Libby O'Bryan, a native mid-westerner, has returned to Chicago following a career in New York City's fashion industry. She recently received her BFA from SAIC, where she focused her studies in the Fiber & Material Studies and Performance departments. Libby has served as Project Manager for “Local Industry” during Anne Wilson: Wind/Rewind/Weave at the Knoxville Museum of Art (Knoxville, TN) as well as Curatorial Assistant for Shannon Stratton and Judith Leeman with Gestures of Resistance at The Museum of Modern Craft (Portland, OR). She has exhibited work in New Blood III at Chicago Cultural Center, The Breathing House in Minneapolis, Ano Viejo at Tom Robbins Gallery and She went back to where she began . . . at The Attic.

Images Courtesy of the Artists

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