Friday, December 12, 2008

The Creativity Don - Sir Ken Robinson

Image: Sir Ken Robinson (left) with Dr. Warwick Carter, President of Columbia College Chicago

Sir Ken Robinson is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, in innovation, education, and human resources. He has worked with national governments in Europe and Asia, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies, not-for-profit corporations, and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations. For 10 years he was Professor of Education at the University of Warwick in England and is now Professor Emeritus.

Sir Robinson was invited to Columbia College to speak for their Founders Lectures on Tuesday, December 2, 2008. Here is my interview with him shortly before going on stage.

Elizabeth: Please talk about the traditional definition of success in higher education and how creativity is often overlooked in pursuit of traditional educational values.

Sir Ken Robinson: If you look at the dominant culture of education and had to ask what does one have to be good at in that culture in order to succeed you’d have to conclude that the whole process of public education is intended to produce university professors. I don’t think it is intentionally that way. The intellectual culture of education is predicated on a certain type of academic ability of the sort that people who teach in universities especially enjoy. If you ask the typical student what they do in school they say that they spend a lot of time writing essays and doing critiques and doing certain sorts of mathematics. There is a greater emphasis on a certain type of critical thinking. People talk about the ‘core’ academics. The whole thing is about academic ability and my point is that academic ability has become a synonym for intelligence and educational achievement. It’s a typical type of intellectual process.

E: Is this success model accidental by virtue of the fact that professors look for the same kind of intellectual process that they themselves possess?

SKR: I don’t think it’s accidental. I think it’s a story. It’s rooted in the formation of the educational system of the 18th and 19th centuries and is shaped much by the culture of the Enlightenment. Quite early on in the process, the universities sought to exert influence on the culture of education. I think of it as more ideological than accidental.

E: One of the examples you use to illustrate the creative mind is a young girl who had been a disruptive force in the classroom. The young girl went on to become a very famous choreographer as an adult. The parents and the school sought the expertise of a psychologist because the girl was not progressing in the classroom environment. During a meeting with the family, the psychologist asked the parents to leave the office with him while the little girl stayed behind in the office. Before the psychologist left with the parents, he turned on the radio to a music station. Outside the office door, the psychologist asked the parents to look through the small window on his door and tell him what the little girl was doing.
“She’s dancing,” they said.
“Do you know why she’s dancing?” he asked.
“She’s always dancing,” they replied.
“She’s dancing because she is a dancer,” the psychologist returned.

SKR: The school thought she had a learning disability because she couldn’t sit still or pay attention. The psychologist that the mother took her to see was fantastically insightful. It was he who said, she isn’t sick, she’s a dancer. Take her to dance school. He was exemplifying that there are other ways of being intelligent. Julian Lyne (the now famous choreographer) said to me that she has to move to think. My wife is like that. She hates going to the theater because she has to sit there for two hours. It drives her mad. Education for the most part is designed for people who like to sit still.

E: In business, I think there is an increasing respect for creative people, but I still see that these people are siloed by upper management. The people who make the big bucks, the corner office crowd, are not the out-of-the-box thinkers. Do you think there is an impenetrable wall between creative people and those who have the bigger jobs and make more money?

SKR: Firstly, it’s difficult to talk about business in general. You look at companies like Pixar or Google or Apple or you look at some of the leading design and architectural companies. They have extraordinary cultures, but so do Proctor & Gamble and GE. Some of their CEOs are fantastically creative people. It takes a lot to run a multi-billion dollar company and to keep it moving upwards. I think that part of the problem is that we tend to caricature creativity and associate it with certain types of activity. Companies do that all the time. They think that creativity is primarily about advertising, marketing or design. What much of my work has been about is to redefine and recalibrate the idea of creativity and the creative mind. People think creativity is about special things or special people, which they are, but there are so many ways in which one can be creative. If you look at some of the great companies like Apple or Google, they’ve been very creative in producing products. Walmart is a much bigger company and they haven’t produced any products at all. Their real creative skill has been in systems in supply chain management. Then you have other companies like Starbucks who didn’t invent coffee, but invented a kind of culture to go with it. They are all examples of very different creative approaches and innovation. But I think that there are some companies who tend to ghettoize the people who are thought of as the ‘creatives’. Sometimes these people make their way to top management, but I think it has to do with them very often. It often happens that people who are in the creative sector, the arts, design, etc.; they don’t all want to be running organizations. The don’t have the mind or the facility for that. That’s part of my argument; in order to run any great organization whether it’s a business, a school or a family there has to be diversity. One of my objections to education is the tendency to want to homogenize everything. It’s why kids who may well be brilliant are being anesthetized with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) drugs. It’s all about conformity and some children don’t fit the mold. I’m very skeptical about the prevalence of ADHD. I don’t mean that there is no such thing. Clearly there are some children who have real problems, but I’m not a doctor and therefore not qualified to say that there is or isn’t such a thing. I do think it’s out of control. I think all kinds of people are being medicated because they just think differently. I’m publishing a book in January entitled, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. The whole book is filled with stories of people who have achieved enormous things creatively. Not all are well-known, but most of them are. I think a number of these people we would never have heard of if they had taken Aderol or Ritalin in the 70s and 80s. Many of them were bucking the system. It really outrages me. I will say that some children have real clinical issues, but from all the people whom I have talked to about this, even doctors, have said that the tendency to medicate children because they’re being mildly disruptive or not paying attention or are bored or distracted or generally are not getting with the program is spreading like wildfire. In the 80s there were half a million kids with ADHD, but right now in 2008 the numbers have reach 8 million. It’s a three billion dollar drug industry. It’s like depression. The drug companies are not trying to cure depression. Once this condition is out there, you see it everywhere. I don’t believe it. I think an awful lot of kids are expressing a kind of vibrant creative energy that is not being channeled. I do know many people who would not be achieving now if they had been medicated as children.

One of these people is Mick Fleetwood. He would have undoubtedly been put on Aderol because he was constantly beating out rhythms on everything. He hated school. Later on in his life it turned out that he was dyslexic. He was angry and frustrated and he begged his parents to let him leave school at the age of sixteen and they let him. The only thing he ever wanted to do was to play the drums. His father had the common sense to buy him a set of drums and at sixteen he set off to London to live with his sister and set his drum kit up in a garage. His father, who was a poet, wrote a poem about him. The last line of the poem was: “He set off to conquer the world with two sticks and a drum.” He’s twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fleetwood Mac has sold millions of albums. They are one of the most successful bands in history. At sixteen he had his first gig with a blues band. What I’m trying to say is that if those drugs had been available, doctors would have given them to him

E: I think Columbia has a lot of kids that also fit this category. They want to pursue creative careers, but they may not have done well in the hard academic core subjects.

SKR: We subject kids to all kinds of academic disciplines regardless of whether they have any interest or aptitude for them. It doesn’t mean that they should not be exposed to these disciplines, but I resist the idea that there are ‘hard’ subjects and ‘soft’ ones. People achieve at the highest levels whether it’s in the arts or the sciences. I don’t think there is such a thing as an academic subject. There are just academic processes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

From Cab Fare to Book Fair - Steve Woodall at Center for Book and Paper Arts

If you ever hailed a cab in San Francisco and saw that your driver had a dog-eared copy of Ezra Pound’s Cantos on the passenger side, you may have gotten a ride from Steve Woodall. Woodall won’t be driving cabs again. Many of us, especially those of us who have reached a certain age, wish that we could take the narrative line of our own life story and arc it in the way Woodall has.

Now 60, Steve Woodall joined Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Arts (CBPA) as the Director in early November. Prior to this leg of his professional journey, he was the Education Director and then the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Center for the Book (SFCB) at the age of 48. Not bad work if you can get it. Before that he was driving a cab in San Francisco for over twenty years.

“A lot of artists in San Francisco drive cabs,” says Woodall. “But it is often a trap that they can’t get free of. While driving a cab, I perfected the bohemian, slacker lifestyle, but it never felt like an authentic life choice for me.”

As Education Director, Woodall was instrumental in building the SFCB from a community center that offered twelve classes in 1996 to a major arts center that offers over 300 classes and boasts a 2008 mailing list of 18,000.

“I started the job in 1996,” says Woodall. “And in one year I was married, had a child and became a workaholic.”

Woodall’s love of the book arts began as a poetry student at San Francisco State. In an effort to read all the great poets, he read Ezra Pound. Pound’s genius caused Woodall to give up trying his hand at poetry.

“If I was going to write, that was what I wanted to write and there was no way I was ever going to write like that.”

Instead of writing poetry, Woodall decided to create handmade photocopied books that included the words of Pound and other poets. Woodall continued to make and improve upon these books with the use of found text, collage and the words of poets he admired. Little did he know that these photocopied publications were part of an art form that was emerging out of the contemporary art movement of the 1970s.

“Right around that time I happened upon a book by the book artist, Joan Lyons and said, “Oh, this is what I’ve been making.”

His photocopy press was called SameAsDat Press which was a word play on the title, Samizdat, a 1960s term for clandestine black market publishing in the Soviet bloc.

Woodall does not make art as much as he used to since turning a fledgling art group into a major player in San Francisco’s art scene in just twelve years. Founded in 1996 by book artists Mary Austin and Kathleen Burch, the SFCB is now a nationally recognized arts center due in great part to Woodall’s efforts. Woodall worked tirelessly to attract book arts enthusiasts to the Center and to educate the public about the history and relevancy of the book arts. SFCB now has a loyal and national following with graphic designers and artists who want to learn letterpress, bookbinding, artists’ books and printmaking.

“Creative people are hungry to use their hands in an age when computers do most of the work for us,” says Woodall. “When students come into the Center and set metal type it’s very exciting for them. Using our hands activates parts of our brains that don’t get used with the computer.”

Woodall thinks that the book arts is one of the most exciting contemporary genres coming out of the art world today. While he maintains that the book arts often get lumped in with craft-identified works like fiber and ceramics, he believes that book arts requires more conceptual thought, time, skill and in some cases, more expensive materials than other art forms like painting and photography.

“Sometimes it takes a break-out artist for people to change their minds about certain art forms,” says Woodall. “Alfred Steiglitz paved the way for generations of photographers to enter the art canon and recently, Dale Chihuly, though I am not a fan, I do admit that he has paved the way for glass artists to be taken more seriously and to get higher prices for their work.”

Woodall claims that as a cab driver he was a self-declared “cabdriver socialite.” He knew many people across many social and economic demographics in San Francisco. He counts himself very fortunate to have found a dedicated group of people who also had a passion for the book arts. Kathy Walkup, the program director at Mills College, called him one of the most important people in creating community around the book arts in the Bay Area.

“Steve was a community building genius in the Bay area,” says Clif Meador, Department Chair for Columbia College’s Book & Paper Arts. “He curated a lot of important shows that brought together disparate communities there, and built SFCB into a national-level institution. He was active in many of the organizations on the west coast that promoted the book arts. One of the things that characterizes Steve’s work is his ability to bring people together, to bridge different audiences with new understanding of their common interests, usually in the book arts. I hope that he will bring some of his audience-development magic to the center.”

It didn’t take much convincing for Woodall to accept the position of Director from Michelle Citron, Chairperson for Interdisciplinary Arts. Woodall plans to increase the publishing efforts here and he would also like to tap into the cultural community in Chicago and to engage new and increased participation with the book arts which was his bailiwick at the SFCB.

“I think Columbia College’s Center for Book & Paper Arts is an already formidable institution with tremendous potential,” says Woodall. “I am honored to be here.”

Photo by Sara McKemie

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mr. Illustrious - Ivan Brunetti

Here is a photo of Ivan Brunetti. Normally, I would do an interview much as I have done with other past and future interviewees, but Ivan beat me to the punch. He sent me a cartoon interview (see below). My interview, fascinating though it may be, can be supplemented by this interview with Ivan on youtube.

Ivan worked in my department, Marketing and Communications, as the webmaster for a number of months (previously he had the same job, but in a different department, for many years) and is now a full-time faculty member in the Art + Design Department at Columbia College. Clearly this demotion must have been devastating for Ivan. I'm sure that the loss of the word 'master' in his title took some getting used to. At staff meetings he was very quiet. I mean to the point that we hardly noticed he was there kind of quiet. If truth be told, he did make a very good coatrack. After his first volume of Anthology of Graphic Fiction, we congratulated him on this amazing accomplishment and then began to browbeat him which gave us all a sense of purpose. When I saw a review of this same book in the Sunday book section of the New York Times I was drinking soup which started coming out of my nose. This was due to my shock, surprise and delight, mind you, and not the seething jealousy that I felt rising up from my loins. Thank God I wasn't eating when I saw one of his cartoons on the cover of The New Yorker because I wouldn't have wanted to ruin a perfectly good magazine. After tearing the cover image with my teeth, I sat down for a good read all of a Sunday afternoon.

When I first met Ivan he was in an office on the fifth floor of the 600 S. Michigan Avenue building in an office that was no larger than a closet with smeary windows that looked out onto a fire escape. Since natural light couldn't possibly penetrate the blur of soot and grime that covered the window, the florescent lighting flickered above his head revealing tobacco-steeped walls and ceiling tiles from a time when employees used to type with cigarettes hanging between their lips. The decrepitude of this bygone era would have served Ivan well or it could have catapulted him out of the greasy window and onto the alley rats below.
Once again...congratulations Ivan from all of us chickens back in Marketing Communications. We think you're the ginchiest.

This is the cover of Ivan's new anthology of graphic fiction. You can purchase it on amazon.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Migrant Artist - Interview with Arti Sandhu

Arti Sandhu has been in Chicago for one year where she teaches Fashion at Columbia College Chicago. She moved to Chicago from New Zealand where she had been for five and a half years. She grew up in India. I sat down and spoke with Arti last week. Note: click on the images in order to see them up close and in finer detail.

Arti: I am not from anywhere in particular in India because my father was in the army and we moved from place to place. I left India at the age of twenty-one when I finished my degree and I moved to England to complete my masters degree. I considered moving back to India, but decided not to. My mother says that when you are in the army you get a three and four year itch when you think that you want to move again. This two to three year itch phenomenon did drive me to move to New Zealand and then here, but I still think of India as home because I lived there the longest. My parents still live in Dehli and I return there about twice a year.

Elizabeth: Do you think of yourself as an Indian artist?

Arti: I’d like to think of myself as a migrant artist. You have a vernacular identity as an migrant because you don’t have a place of your own, but you’re always thinking about places you want to be. I did some writing about how people dress in this ‘migrant’ mode as well. You can have an identity that doesn’t belong to either one place or another. I know that here people think I am from New Zealand and in New Zealand people thought I was from England and in England people thought I was from India. I don’t know if I’m an Indian artist, per se. There seems to be a very spiritual vein to Indian art that I don’t associate with at all.

Elizabeth: But looking at your artwork, there is something ‘Indian’ about your work…the color, the intricate detail is reminiscent of Indian miniature paintings that depict Hindu deities.

Arti: I don’t see how it could be that I don’t carry some ethnic or ancestral seeds that make these things come out in my work. It is about India, but its also about not being in India. If I was there, I would not be making this kind of work. When I am in India I am photographing constantly. I take pictures of things that I would never have noticed when I was growing up or when I was living there. When I go back to visit, people ask, “Why are you taking a photography of that? It’s just a sign or it’s just a car or it’s just a cow?”
In my first series work, entitled, The Alphabet Series, I looked at things in India like rickshaws and other urban things. I showed these images to a lot of Indian friends and they couldn’t understand why I took pictures of things that are often taken for granted.

Elizabeth: Was the alphabet Roman or Hindi?

Arti: It was the Hindi alphabet. You know how there are children’s books that say “A for Apple” and “B for Ball?” That’s when I started making things again. I had this big gap between when I was making clothing and then all of a sudden life changed. I was in India in 2004 with my fiancĂ©, who is not Indian, and we experienced a culture gap. I was trying to explain things to him. He was really intrigued with things that we all took for granted when we were growing up. The culture shock that he was experiencing focused on very simple things like traffic or the language of signs. We went through a process where I was trying to teach him words. We had a joke and he asked me why I didn’t do a little alphabet book that would teach words. I made a number of these alphabet cards. One was of a toilet because people think India is the world’s toilet. I took pictures of everyday things which I don’t think a lot of people could understand because there is an expectation that when you take a photo you have to photograph something special whereas I was taking images that were quite mundane.

Elizabeth: I notice that some of your drawings/photographs include paisley shapes and paisley is also a very ubiquitous or mundane decorative motif as well. You have one here that is full of traffic lights and traffic cones.

Arti: There are traffic lights everywhere in India, but the idea of having one that says, “Relax,” instead of “Stop!” is really intriguing.

Elizabeth: Why would it say, “Relax?”

Arti: Traffic lights in India are not like they are here. The whole point of stopping and waiting seems sort of futile for some people. We went through a phase in Delhi where traffic was terrible so they promoted the idea that the red light say, ‘relax’ as opposed to ‘stop.” They wanted to let people know that stopping was like a little break you could take and that you didn’t have to rush along. This is very Indian.

Someone once told me that I take photographs like a textile designer. I didn’t quite understand what that meant, but I am always trying to find a pattern within things and to try to create repetition out of seemingly random visual stimulus. If you take something really ugly like a truck or a car or a traffic light and you try to repeat it in a textile manner it becomes decorative. I particularly like the traffic cones and how they can be repeated to form a pattern. The paisley pattern is the most pedestrian pattern I could think of because it’s so recognizable and pervasive. One rarely thinks of a paisley pattern anymore. It sinks into the background. It is so visible that it is almost invisible. That is why I use it.

Elizabeth: I really liked your work for this reason. Everything is about the double-take. You see a paisley pattern and so your brain makes this easy association, but upon closer inspection, you realize that the pattern is made up of traffic cones, stacks of low cost housing, traffic lights and other things that the brain processes automatically. You put these things into another context and it is kind of delightful. The images take on a whole other layer of meaning about the nature of design and repetition. How do these concepts enter into your fashion work?

Arti: I struggle with the idea of fashion now. I was trained in fashion in a very un-critical manner which I think is very characteristic of fashion designer’s discipline in general. At this point I don’t see myself practicing in fashion though I am still very interested in textiles. In my other life, I’m very interested in writing about fashion. Many people write about costume, but I’m more interested in how people make those everyday choices; how they try to express themselves through a mis-matched aesthetic. The fashion side of art has become more about a commentary on contemporary culture. As a migrant designer, my interest is not in the fashion I see in the place where I am living. I’m still interested in how fashion is being performed in other parts of the world. The creative process and the process of critical thinking are very much a part of my teaching style. The students are not just making clothes, they are also thinking about the idea of clothes from many perspectives. Fashion is the most immediate message board that a person has. People respond to fashion individually, but it is also a collective response. In the classroom, when I was in school, I was never made to reflect on fashion in that way. Students designed things as a product that could be around for a little while and then was replaced by something new. I try to impress upon students that clothing is an important canvas. There is a great deal of thought that can go into a garment.

Elizabeth: Is there a fashion designer that reflects your ideas, your aesthetic?

Arti: I’ve always been drawn to the Japanese especially Rei Kawa-Kuba’s work. She founded the company Commes des Garcons. I like that the label is Commes des Garcons, which means ‘like the boys.” She does work that can at first come across as deeply ugly, but very, very current. She looks at the meaning of clothing and how we engage with our bodies. It is, however, difficult to express this to students who are 18 or 19 years old who only want to make really pretty prom dresses with the sweetheart neckline. Trying to find a way in which I can express my agenda to them and then they can get what they want to get out of it.

Elizabeth: Are you currently constructing clothing yourself?

Arti: No. I’m putting a lot of effort into designing textiles. These could be made into clothing, of course, but the textile I make is really just about the textile itself. Whether it is made into clothing is something entirely different. It doesn’t fit into fashion design really, but it does fit into what I’m writing about. I’m trying to write about everyday life and clothing and the aesthetic that comes about subconsciously with the choices that people make when they decide what to buy or what to wear. If I try to clump together all of these ideas there is a mis-match there as well. I think my work is sort of indulgent to who I am.

Elizabeth: In fashion there are choices that can be made to either stand out or fade into the background. I see you having the tendency to want to fade into the background, but with aesthetic intention. Again, there is that veneer of the mundane, but it’s a kind of joke on the mundane or a celebration of the banal which is quite funny especially if you’re creating fashion.

Arti: I don’t like things that are overstated. At first glance, you see one thing, but when you see if again you see something else which is what clothing does. When you look at Commes des Garcons designs you don’t immediately think that they are beautifully made. Maybe it’s a design thing, but I am editing or turning the volume down in a way that they don’t jump out at you. It’s a hard place to be. I don’t get the fame and fortune. I make great connections with the people who connect with my work. They are the ones who are really looking. They are not interested in the loudest thing, but in things that go beyond the veneer. In my Alphabet Series there were people who made a cultural connection even if they were not from India. Many people think that if I am from India I should be making big orange canvasses with elephants praying on them, people with their legs crossed or silk fabrics tasseled in gold. I guess if I had done that I would be in a very different place, but I don’t think I’d be myself at all. Even though I’m not show-stopper, I have appreciated the people with whom I have made connections and I think that is more important.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Experienced Gatherer - Arti Sandhu

Arti Sandhu, artist, traveler, self-proclaimed migrant and gatherer of images, is a faculty member in Columbia College Chicago's Art and Design Department where she teaches fashion design. I sat down with Arti last week and we talked about her love of traffic cones, peeling paint, her favorite designer and her love of collecting images that most people would never notice. I will be posting our wonderful interview next week. I am also including a link to one of her favorite blogsites, masalachai. Check it out and I'll see you next week.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I sat down last week with two Columbia College photography alums, Sarah McKemie and Terttu Uibopuu, and talked to them about their collaboration. I often wonder how it is that two artists can put their own ego aside in the name of making something together. I hope this interview informs you on what it takes to do an artistic collaboration.

Elizabeth Burke-Dain: What is it about your work that lends itself well to collaboration with each other?

Terttu: A lot of people have asked us why we collaborated. It has much to do with our personalities and our coming together as friends. We wanted to do this collaboration because we like each other’s work. I like Sarah’s approach to photographing people. Her work is portraiture like my own. Sarah is not so predictable and she gives her pictures her own twist. I think she takes some very interesting risks in her work.

Sarah: I like the way Terttu can mix still lifes and portraiture. Her way of representing women and the way she is able to hone in on quiet moments that create a sense of intimacy is something you feel in her work. The viewer can definitely see what she saw in the moment she took the photograph. Terttu well represents the people she chooses to photograph. They are beautiful, but slightly off. She finds something beautiful in the women in her photographs even though you might not notice them if you saw them on the street. She questions them in her photographs by how she depicts them.

Elizabeth: Do you feel like the collaboration completed something about your own work through working with each other?

Terttu: When we started, we were just started to learn what we liked taking pictures of. Up until the point of this collaboration, we had just taken the beginning photo classes here at Columbia. We didn’t really know what we liked doing as individual artists . Doing this work together and by being playful, I have learned a lot from Sarah. We are different, but there are so many things I admire about her. I still learn from her. I have a strictly German approach to things. I like perfection, but Sarah is free and more playful. I like that. It has influenced my work.

Sarah: Both approaches came together, the formal and the improvisational, in this collaboration. We feed each other. The work in this project is something we couldn’t have produced on our own. We needed each other to complete this work. We admired each others ideas. There is no one else I would have done with this. We appreciate enough of the same things, but we also bring something different to the table.

Terttu: In working on and off for two years, our individual work has grown, but it doesn’t look like our collaborative work. I couldn’t carry the same ideas on my own because the work was about the two of us, about our relationship.

Sarah: The photos were about our relationship at the beginning and that’s what they stayed about throughout the project. The narrative of the relationship in the photos changed.

Elizabeth: Some of the photos looked like you were trying to go back to childhood by creating scenes from a remembered idea of childhood. In the photos, you seem to be in this transitional place between being young and entering adulthood.

Sarah: I definitely think that transition is a heavy theme in our work: teen to young adult, young adult to more adult. Even being together in a friendship and an artistic collaboration, we are in a transitional place. In some ways these images are less about having to grow up and more about the process of growing apart.

Elizabeth: What did you learn about your own work through this collaboration? Did it help you more clearly define your own work?

Terttu: I learned about risk taking, but that is directly from Sarah’s approach. One example is the picture of the mermaid on the shower door. There are no people in this photo, just the mermaid. I liked it, but I didn’t think we could take a picture of the mermaid for technical reasons. I would have walked away and not taken the picture for purely technical reasons. Sarah got excited about the idea of the mermaid in order to create a metaphor about our relationship. I framed the photo, but we were struggling with it. From this experience, I learned to not walk away if something doesn’t seem right or perfect. I never would have taken that photo, but now it’s my favorite picture.

Elizabeth to Sarah: Do you think Terttu is more technical?

Sarah: No. The tables are always going back and forth with ideas and other issues. It all becomes one thing. One of us has the will and the other resists, but we end up pushing each other. I would never have gone to the house where we took the photos if Terttu hadn’t suggested it. We made it work together. The initial challenge was like working on a math problem together. It’s hard, but it was satisfying to have figured it out.

Elizabeth: Did you figure out anything about your own aesthetic after this experience?

Sarah: I think I have started taking more risks and pushing boundaries. I’m not afraid to show an ugly or weird awkward side. Just take the photo and worry about it later. Push the moment as much as you can.

Terttu: We have always compared this collaboration to being in a marriage. We have to make decisions together. We surrender things in the name of the project.

Sarah: We choose our battles wisely.

Elizabeth: Did this collaboration help you to think of what you want to do next?

Terttu: We started the collaboration to get away from heavy thinking. Being in school you are forced to think about a series and larger conceptual ideas. For us, the collaboration was an escape, but as we worked on it, the things we learned in school started to make sense. We had to come up with bigger ideas and really think about what is was we were doing.

Elizabeth: What was the bigger idea?

Sarah: About being friends and what that means. It sounds elementary and sweet, but that is at its core. Maintaining strong relationships have a push and pull affect. Whether it’s your lover or your friend, you want to be with them, but you also want to maintain and uphold your own identity.

Elizabeth: Was there any attraction to Terttu because she is from Estonia and is not American?

Sarah: Maybe it did and I didn’t even know it. I like things that are different than me. I’m sure subconsciously, I was probably like, wow, I want to know about Estonia.

Terttu: Sarah seemed like she was from another place. I’ve never met anybody like her. She is not a typical American. I can remember the first picture I saw of hers. I was very attracted to her work. She is mysterious and her work has a lot of mystery that comes across. I’ve gotten to know her better over the years, but she and her work are still very interesting to me. In the future, I am exploring the idea of doing documentary work. I still question what the documentary is and how much words can add to images.

Sarah: I’m listening to our answers and thinking that maybe we are very different. I want to explore music and Terttu wants to explore documentary work. Maybe one of us is more formal and one of us is more loose. We need these opposites. Our answers reinforce that we are different, but those differences are wonderful. We have different things to bring to the table.

Thanks Sarah and Terttu. Please leave comments about this interview. Thanks everybody.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ARE WE THERE YET? - Hyde Park Art Center

I really like going to art exhibitions that have a question in the title. As a viewer standing before the works in the exhibition, Are We There Yet? at The Hyde Park Art Center, I ask myself how these artists have answered this question. Why was this artist chosen to participate in this show? All of the artists in this exhibition have made journeys either across the world, across the state line or have created a place through the medium of photography. All of them have made mental and emotional journeys that are mirrored by geographical movement of one kind or the other.

image: Howard Henry Chen, Fernando and Sylvie reading The Lonely Planet at The War Remnants Museum (formerly The Museum of American War Crimes, but the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City changed the name sometime after Hanoi and Washington normalized relations) Ho Chi Minh City, 2005

The artist and Columbia College Chicago alum Howard Henry Chen left Vietnam at the age of three. Armed with only this knowledge and the subject matter of his photographs, the question Are We There Yet? draws us into a uniquely American experience. The journey from the Vietnamese refugee camps to the United States in the mid-seventies might be entirely forgotten by the generation with whom Chen shares. The thirty-somethings. But to the families who made that journey, it has shaped and defined them. As a child, I remember seeing the horrific images of dead Vietnamese children on the news. Or of hearing my parents talk about the war around the dinner table. After the bombing of Cambodia by our own government, my family sponsored a Cambodian family. The Choerks. While not Vietnamese, they travelled here to escape the same ravages of the same war. I remember going with my family to pick them up at O'Hare Airport in the middle of winter. Most of them were not wearing shoes. Two of the girls were pregnant. They had just weeks before witnessed the beating death of their own father. At this time, I'm sure the question, Are we there yet?, was fraught with terror and exhaustion. I remember the mother, Mak Chourk, wearing a white jersey that bore the logo of two tennis rackets crossing. The absurdity of a country club tennis shirt being worn by this bent and near-starving woman was not lost on me or my other family members. The adults went to work at a paper bag factory near our house. When we went to visit them in their tiny apartment they would all be squatting on the floor, but when we arrived they quickly got to their feet and sat around the table as if they had done something wrong. Today, the young children who once begged for food on the streets of Phnom Penh are not unlike Howard Henry Chen. They have college educations, homes in middle-class neighborhoods and children who don't speak the language of their native homeland.

image: Howard Henry Chen, Welcome to Miss Saigon (Cameron Mackintosh has apparently moved to 160 Pasteur Street, Ho Chi Minh City), 2005

I don't know the circumstances of Howard Henry Chen's family as they made that passage from Vietnam to the United States, but his work is steeped in that reckoning between what was and what is now. In the photograph, Fernando and Sylvie (complete title above), we see a beautiful courtyard with a lovely western couple reading together near a battle-scarred American fighter jet. In modern Vietnam, the war and the American's role in it has not disappeared, but rather the marketing has changed. What was once a 'war crime' is now merely a 'remnant'. But which version is true? This is the question being asked in Chen's work. Is the tragedy of the past something to be memorialized or do we just need a better public relations strategy? In the photograph, Welcome to Miss Saigon (Cameron Mackintosh has apparently moved to 160 Pasteur Street, Ho Chi Minh City), 2005, Chen chooses an image that features the famous broadway musical, Miss Saigon, that brought to the world the story of the Vietnamese conflict, but a small note is attached to the door, the forwarding address of one Cameron Mackintosh; an unknown person with a western name. For me, the meaning of this photograph is about displacement. Real experiences and people are displaced and replaced by a controlled version of those experiences and people. Lastly, the photograph, Entrance Gate to the Tropical Fruit Festival most directly summons up the satire in Chen's vision. A huge plaster tree with enormous plastic native fruit forms a gate that is clearly Chen nudging us to enter into the lie... just don't eat the fruit, it could kill you.

image: Howard Henry Chen, Entrance Gate to the Tropical Fruit Festival

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alinea Restaurant - Food As Art

My husband recently lost his job, so where did we go for dinner? Alinea Restaurant! Woo Hoo! For that 'let's blow it all' feeling, Alinea can't be beat. The reason I am posting my review on ARTseen Chicago is because my experience at Alinea was not just culinary, but also artistic. Grant Achatz, the celebrated chef and molecular gastronomie visionary, is definitely the Marcel Duchamp of the food world. It was the weirdest food I have ever eaten. This is not to say it was bad, but when you eat a rectangular lump of chocolate pudding larded with marinated pork and you know it's costing you about 35 bills, you lean in to see if you can detect a hint of horse shit. Gladly, I was happy to discover that there were only three missteps throughout the twelve courses. My palette is adventuresome. If a chef claims that they are going to blow my mind with weirdness and deliciousness, I am all over it. I say, 'bring it on' and I'll eat just about anything. I've eaten live baby crabs, fish eyes and baby snails that I picked out of their shells with a toothpick without blinking. But, had I found the baby snails on the wet pavement, I probably would have let them live a long and prosperous life. It's all context. Alinea is focused primarily on the visual transformation of food and the creation of a multisensory experience that not only pleases the eye, but also the palette. This is a very difficult thing to do. The second dish that came out was an homage to the tomato. There were several small jellied orbs of tomato essense that were surprising in their tomato-iness. They had great 'mouth feel', but the actual taste was everything that you love about the tomato. Then there was a freeze-dried tomato thing (lump, spoonful?) that had, again, the essential tomato experience without the tomato. I imagine that this was probably what Stanley Kubrick was going for in 2001 Space Odyssey. Over the top of the tomato treats was a frozen cloud of mozarella foam. It looked good, but it was very cold and tasted more like ice than cheese. All was forgiven because it did look really cool. Since there were twelve courses, it was fun to anticipate the next dish as if I were waiting for the next act in a good play. All in all Alinea can only be described as John Cage and Julia Child's love child. But, don't be fooled. This is food for rich people who are looking for the newest food trend and have the money to try it. I'm not saying it wasn't worth it, but I probably should have paid my daughter's school fees and lunches for the year. No, make that two years. Oh well. Burp.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Everybody Loves Busted Amp

Image by John Solimine, Halloween
See the review of Busted Amp in TimeOutChicago by Kiedra Chaney. Also, The Post Family has featured Busted Amp on their blog today. Thanks Posts!

Nick Butcher of Sonnenzimmer

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Busted Amp in the News plus gallery images

Busted Amp at Columbia College Chicago's Averill and Bernard Leviton A+D Gallery. Opens June 26 and runs through July 23. Opening Reception on June 26 from 5-8pm. A+D Gallery is located at 619 S. Wabash Ave. 312.344.8668.

Listen to curator, James Iannacone of Columbia College's Anchor Graphics interviewed by Blair Chavis of Chicago Public Radio on the 848 show. Click this link to listen. (Note: The interview starts at the 25 minute mark and is about 6 minutes long.)
Also check Busted Amp out on the Sun-Times Website:,WKP-News-out20dWest.article
Print Magazine's July 08 issue will include a piece about Busted Amp written by Anne Elizabeth Moore who wrote the book Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity.

Here are a few gallery shots of Busted Amp.

Write a review or comment in the 'comments' section. Thanks!

All of the artists screen-printed their own images on the walls.

It looks very cool. The actual art works will appear above these screen-prints.


Friday, June 20, 2008

5th International Book & Paper Triennial

Image: Elizabeth Munger, Passerines
Suite of five prints, letterpress
7” x 9” each

Image: Shawn Sheehy, Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Fifth Millennium Bestiary
Handmade paper, letterpress, collage
8” x 15” x 10.25” (open)

Image: Peggy Johnston, Urchin, antique book, linen thread

5th International Book & Paper Arts Triennial
At Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Arts
June 25 - September 12, 2008

Fifty-nine art works from the papermaking and artists’ book genre will be on view during the 5th International Book & Paper Arts Triennial at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Arts located at 1104 S. Wabash Avenue on the second floor. A closing reception will be held on Friday, September 12 from 5:30 – 7:30pm This juried exhibition features fine and letterpress printed and bound books, broadsides, artists’ books, book objects, sculptural paper, pulp painting and altered books that have been selected from an international base of some of the most recognized artists working in this medium today. Art works range in size from paper vessels that dangle from ceiling to floor down to sculpture that is 2” tall.

Challenging the traditional definition of the book, the 5th Trienniel features a book that is “written” in broken glass and another that contains the mnemonic bird calls of Midwest songbirds. Also included are etchings of Paris gardens, a taxonomy of urban fowl, illustrated poems, corn stalks made of paper, a photo journey through a car wash and many more wonderful and curious book and paper objects that comprise this triennial exhibition.
The Center for Book & Paper’s gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm. This exhibition is free and open to the public. For more information, please call 312.344.6630 or go to their website at A catalog of the exhibition will be available for purchase during the closing reception on Friday, September 12.

Mapping: Cartographies of Learning

at Columbia College Chicago's C33 Gallery
June 26 - August 8, 2008

As part of the City of Chicago’s Festival of Maps, Mapping: Cartographies of Learning showcases multi-media arts installations from Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) Project AIM, and the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE). This free exhibition is on view at Columbia College Chicago’s C33 Gallery at 33 East Congress. Mapping is a culmination of curricular and conceptual explorations of mapmaking from students in nine Chicago Public Schools (kindergarten through high school). The installations, directed by professional artists and teachers, feature compelling social and cultural histories as well as visionary images of students’ sense of place in their neighborhoods and the world. An opening reception at the gallery will be held on Thursday, June 25 from 5 – 7pm. For more information, please contact Betsy Odom, [C]Spaces Exhibition Coordinator at 312.344.8177. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 9am to 7pm, Friday, 9am to 5pm and Saturdays by appointment.

Participating Schools
A.C.T. Charter School, Crown Community Academy, Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, Edward Jenner Academy of the Arts, John B. Murphy Elementary School, Northside College Prep High School, South Shore High School, and Telpochcalli Elementary School.

Participating Artists and Teachers
Luke Albrecht, Meg Arbeiter, Charles Barbera, Lindsey Caplice, Phillip Cotton, Peter DeLaurentis, Guillermo Delgado, William Estrada, David Jordan, Rebecca Leverenz, Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein, Jorge Lucero, Colby Mecher, Olivia Mulcahy, Walter Ornelas, Mathais “Spider” Schergen, Wendee Shavocky, Eric Silverberg, Margy Stover, Jamie Lou Thome, Joel Wanek, Megan Williamson, and Mirtes Zwierzynski.

Curated by Scott Sikkema and Cynthia Weiss, with Mark Diaz and Shawn Renee Lent.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

BUSTED AMP at A+D Gallery - opens June 26

Image: Diana Sudyka, Night Image: Jay Ryan, Sound Opinions

Chicago’s Rock Poster Artists Get a Gallery Gig
June 26 – July 23, 2008

Just in time for the Pitchfork Music Festival, James Iannacone of Anchor Graphics at Columbia College Chicago has brought together a dozen of Chicago’s most sought-after screen printers who work in the music poster, t-shirt and album cover genre for an exhibition of their personal work at Columbia’s Averill and Bernard Leviton A+D Gallery. This free exhibition will have its opening reception on June 26 from 5 to 8pm.
Fine art prints by some of the leading screen printers associated with Chicago music are Jay Ryan’s Bird Machine, Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher’s Sonnenzimmer, Steve Walter’s Screwball Press, just to name a few. These rock mementos are coveted by fans and are highly collectable.
PARTICIPATING ARTISTS: Nick Butcher (Sonnenzimmer),Nadine Nakanishi (Sonnenzimmer), Jay Ryan (the Bird Machine), Mat Daly, Dan Grzeca (Artisan Dan), Steve Walters, Billy Baumann (Delicious Design), Jason Teegarden-Downs (Delicious Design), Diana Sudyka, Kathleen Judge, Dan MacAdam, Rob Doran, John Solimine and Keith Herzik
Please note that a virtual gallery tour video is on its way.
We urge you to review this exhibition below this post in the "comments" section.