Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Studio Expanse

Alberto Aguilar
Professor of Studio Art
Harold Washington College

This Is The Introduction
I regularly stand in front of a group and sing unscripted verse for three minutes. This is my current trademark introduction to a new class or a lecture. I usually sing about the time as it passes, my fear and anxiety of being in this moment, my hope that something meaningful will come out of it and announce as I begin to gain confidence and feel comfortable in this awkward situation. I enjoy that these works are immaterial and explain themselves in the making. This new medium that I employ gets rid of the middleman. There is no loss of meaning through the materials. The viewer is directly tapped into the thoughts, feelings and revelations involved in my creative process. It is also an icebreaker and instead of painting me the fool it immediately puts us on the same human level.

Let Go
As a young artist, after a late night of painting, I was washing my brushes at the sink and was struck by a deep feeling of loneliness. I accepted this as my lot in life and painted in the seclusion of my studio for many years after. Eventually I began to feel skepticism towards painting, its ability to communicate my ideas and guilt for spending so many hours alone making work. I made my last painting in 2004 after having my fourth child and getting my first full time job teaching Art History but continued to keep a studio which was a shared space with the laundry room. After purchasing a digital camera I began documenting household chores and daily life. The most iconic of these images is one that of me proudly staring at my garage door after completing the duty of painting it. It is titled “Finished Painting”. At this point I decided to let go of my studio.

Finished Painting, 2006, Digital image

Open House

Last year I launched a project on facebook to inaugurate my 36th birthday in which I invited over 1000 strangers into my home to have dinner. The idea for this project first came about after two curators requested to pay me a studio visit. Being that I no longer kept a studio I decided that I would have them over and be a great host. Also I set up several domestic monuments in my home for them to look at.

Open House, 2009, Digital image
After this visit the idea of having some sort of art exhibition in my home started to take shape. In the end I realized that it would not involve art but that I would have people over and treat them with great hospitality. After making 1,136 friends on facebook I fearfully sent out invitations that stated all that would be included in the dinner party and how to be considered for it. There would be 36 guests at 6 separate dinners of 6 people. I promised to arrange interesting groups of people. I also promised a six-course dinner and a handmade gift box containing compact versions of all the works I made since letting go of my studio.

Out of all the invitees, 109 agreed to be considered and 39 made the short list. Upon the arrival of my guests I gave a tour of the house, we ate, I played a soundtrack, we looked through photo albums, we played a board game and I gave henna tattoos. An art writer that attended one of the dinners was upset to find out that I did not have a studio and that we would not be looking at my work that night. At the dinners I wanted to give them a taste of my daily life but I was conscious of creating a strong memory so that even if it were too uneventful they would always remember the night. This was reinforced through the repeated soundtrack of nostalgic songs, the henna tattoos that would stay with them for up to 2 weeks and the handmade gift boxes that they took home with them. Without fail after each night I had great sadness and longed for the company of my guests for several days after the dinner.

Final Dinner, 2010, Digital image
Six months after completing this project I asked guest to send me pictures of the current location of the gift box. I purposely asked them not to stage or move the box but to take a picture of wherever it was kept.  I received only a few photo responses and although there was a couple that gained prominent places at homes most were shuffled amongst the residue of daily life.

Domestic Monuments
Another aspect of my work is that I make sculptures out of objects in my home. These act as monuments that celebrate everyday life. One great thing about these sculptures is that after they are completed, documented or shown the objects could return to its original function or place. I do not have to find storage for these pieces; they do not have to join the collection of  “ The Museum of Decaying Paintings” which currently abides in my mother’s basement.

Double Stuffed Column, 2010, Digital image
I make these monuments in the homes of others as well. Once I made some in the home of guy who runs an apartment gallery in his spare bedroom. He gave me the key to come to his apartment while he was at work. Rather than working in the extra bedroom I was compelled to make monuments all over his apartment using his personal belongings. I did this on various visits to his home. At first he thought it was funny but after a while he seemed to get annoyed because I would leave these monuments for him to find, disassemble and return to there original place.

More recently I did this at the home of an art director in Kansas City. I got her permission and arrived at her home at 8 am. She received me in her nightgown and told me to have at it, that she would continue her sleep in the guest room in order to give me free reign of her home. I made many monuments, documented them, returned the objects to their original place and let myself out before she awoke. I included the photos of these monuments in a show that she co-curated in Kansas City. At the opening reception she told me that she felt extremely honored that I was showing these works made in her home. 

New Mode
Some of my first acts of collaboration were in graduate school. Because of my domestic circumstances my time in the studio was limited. I usually arrived at 7am and was out by 4pm which was when most students would just be arriving or warming up. The first thing I would do when I got there is to go through everyone’s studio and shuffle through there personal belongs getting to know his or her visual tendencies. These were collaborations that I had with them by myself.

I got to know the power of working with others soon after. The first instance was when I made two murals with students in the suburbs of Chicago. Here our concentration on the materials of paint and the goal of finishing a singular work kept us from intimately getting to know one another.

Alberto Aguilar with the Outliers, 
Chain Reaction, 2009, Digital Image
Through a residency/ youth mentorship program that I was part of in 2005/06 I got to know my collaborators more in depth. Together with a group of teenagers we explored my ideas while incorporated their interests. In these groups there was fighting, crying, playing, joking, wasting time and sometimes working. I made an effort not to be the authority figure. We saw one another daily and our relationship was more akin to brother and sister. Here our studio was lively and far from lonely, I accepted this as my new mode of working.

Grande Finale
This past summer I was granted a prime space in downtown Chicago for a given time period. I considered using it to spend time making my own work but in the end I decided to open it up to others. From this decision came the first “Center of Multiple Middles”.  The Idea behind it was to have an open site where people of diverse background and experience could come exchange ideas, make work and then show it collectively: on top of, butted up against, and all over the space. There would be no curator, no singular voice, no work considered more than the other. The amount of people involved kept growing up until the night of the opening reception.

The second “Center of Multiple Middles” took place at Harold Washington College. Rather than happening in a one space it took place at various points around the college with the hopes of expanding the viewers line of sight. In the elevator waiting area, on windows of the building’s fa├žade, in my office, in the refrigerator of my office, in display cases, in the reception area of the President’s office and as a scavenger hunt on every floor of the college. All together there were over 20 artists involved. The night of the opening reception we had performances happening in a room adjacent to the main gallery. The audience was split between all the various points of the exhibition. The performance space was crowded and a bit chaotic as people were coming in and out and there were two stages. As my contribution to the performances I sang one of my three-minute songs, which did not turn out as I hoped, but all together we moved with great force.

Alexander Cohen, Composite Eyes Surf and Slide, 2010, Office Installation
Christopher Santiago, Map for the second incarnation of “Center Of Multiple Middles” 
2010, Digital image

Alberto Aguilar is a Professor of Studio Art at Harold Washington College in downtown Chicago. He is the founder and coordinator of Pedestrian Project, an art initiative dedicated to making art accessible to people from all walks of life. He currently lives on the southwest side of Chicago, on the path of airplanes, near Midway airport. On windy days the airplanes land instead of taking off bringing them fearfully close to his rooftop.  In his current work, every aspect of his daily life and exchanges with others are treated as creative acts.

Opening Image:  Isa’s Headband (00OOO00), 2008, digital image 
All images courtesy of the artist.

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