February 16, 2016

Seeking Monograph Publisher

I just sent the email below to a bunch of people, but thought I would post this query here too:

As many of you know, I have been writing a book on Stephen Willats for a good many years now. A couple of publishers have not worked out, but I now have a nibble and I need to indicate to them what level of interest there might be in North America for a monograph on Stephen, as in: “who would buy this book?” (I think we have a good sense of the UK.)

I write to ask you to let me know of upcoming North American exhibits, symposia, or ongoing conversations around the following KEY WORDS: anarchism, architectural interventions, British modernism, computer arts, conceptualism, critical information studies, cybernetics, mutualism, participatory art, self-organizing, or social practice (or variants on that phrase).

The Performance of Information Flows in the Art of Stephen Willats

The Performance of Information Flows in the Art of Stephen Willats, published in Information & Culture in 2012

Book Precis:
Stephen Willats, Artist as Instigator is my third book and examines Willats’ social practice art using archival sources, primary literature, and interviews with the artist and some of his collaborators, informed by science and technology studies (STS) and contemporary art criticism. London-based artist Stephen Willats (b. 1943) has spanned many disciplines and media in his 50+-year career. My book has two foci: the relationships between artist and audience, and between Willats’ art and physical and conceptual systems. Historians of technology and feminist STS scholars are crucial to my study: Jane Bennett, Geoff Bowker and S. Leigh Star, Barbara Hanson, Donna Haraway, Andrew Pickering, and John Staudenmaier have provided concepts and models that shaped my research. Claire Bishop and Grant Kester, together with Rosalyn Deutsche, Shannon Jackson, Suzanne Lacy, Edward Shanken, and John A. Walker, have done foundational work on theory and practice in socially-engaged, media-rich art. Finally, the philosophy of Félix Guattari, particularly as expressed in Chaosmosis (1995 translation, 1992), has shaped how I think about social practice in the cultural field. We must take into account the roles that material processes perform in the environment, society, and subjectivity in order to fully constitute an “ethico-aesthetic paradigm,” in Guattari’s phrasing. I use Willats’ image of the homeostat as a metaphor for material, aesthetic and ideological inputs that recalibrate the shifting art canon. Linking Willats’ work to that of architect-planners and other contemporary artists clarifies the political underpinnings of his art and transforms our perceptions about social practice in the U.K., as well as helps to enact the paradigm that Guattari outlined.

I first began researching Willats’ work in 2003, and have published three articles on his project works. Since 2010, I have studied extensively in archives and museums around the U.K., also visiting Willats at his London and Rye homes to interview him and view his art and archives located there. I received funding from the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program and additional funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. While Willats himself has been thorough in documenting his work through self-publication and interviews, and while there are numerous short essays about him available in art publications, very few of these analyze his ambitious projects in depth or link Willats’ work to the social, political, and cultural histories in which he worked. Willats unequivocally declared in 1986: “The place of intervention itself is perceived as one of the mediums of the work.” Without the details regarding his art and its context, it is difficult to integrate Willats into the history of social practice art, in which he has been a pioneer and a key figure.

February 26, 2010

Book Sales Strong!

The University of Minnesota Press just wrote on their blog:

Our top 3 most popular books at this very busy, well-attended conference [College Art Association in Chicago] were: Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between, by Sharon Irish; String, Felt, Thread, by Elissa Auther; and Modernism after Wagner by Juliet Koss.

Go here for more:



October 17, 2009

Loss within Loss

Last night I sat listening to the New Orleans Hot 8 Brass Band play “St. James Infirmary.” While I sat there I felt inconsolable about the losses experienced recently by friends, strangers, and acquaintances. This has been a particularly hard summer and fall for many in this community. Loss Within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002) is a collection of essays edited by Edmund White. While I read it a while back, the title brings to mind a spiral of losses, loss upon loss, loss moving inward to our vulnerable centers, losses piling up, one after another with no time to process or adequately grieve. The New Orleans Brass Band “drummer Dinerral Shavers was shot and killed in late 2006 while driving with his wife and child in New Orleans. In addition, two other members of the band have lost their lives due to violence on the city streets. In response to these tragic setbacks, The Hot 8 Brass Band has recommitted itself to bringing people together through their unique brand of music to celebrate, to heal and to learn.” While it was weird to sit in a theatre listening to street music on a chilly autumn evening, I appreciated the opportunity to feel this band’s energy and to ponder the weight of violent death while feeling the beats of drums and hearts.

Hot 8 Brass Band

Hot 8 Brass Band

September 5, 2009

Every Body! Visual Resistance in Feminist Health Movements, 1969-2009

Artist Bonnie Fortune is tremendous! She conceptualized, organized, and raised funds to produce a two-city, multi-event extravaganza called Every Body! This past week I have gotten the flier for the public performance of Terri Kapsalis’s “The Hysterical Alphabet,” and the flier for the series of “Every Body!” events. In addition to Kapsalis’s performance, there will be a display of Feminist Health Political Graphics at the Women’s Resource Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, and a small display of books and posters by the History Library up the street. The books will include publications by UIUC scholars like Sarah Projansky, Leslie Reagan, and Ruth Nicole Brown, as well as some of our inspirational books by Andrea Smith, Dorothy Roberts and Suzann Gage. In addition to Terri Kapsalis’s books, there will be some zines and posters in that case too. Suzann Gage is coming from California to give an artist’s talk on September 12 at the I-Space Gallery in Chicago where the main exhibit will be held. Artist Christa Donner will give a presentation in Champaign on October 5. So the next month will be a flurry of activities around women’s health justice! Melissa Mitchell of the UI News Bureau wrote a nice publicity piece too. Congratulations Bonnie!

August 16, 2009

The Big Neighborhood Supper

Chickens, chard, plums and cabbage

Chickens, chard, plums and cabbage

About 25 of us gathered on a fairly warm and humid August evening to enjoy The Big Neighborhood Supper. Artist Maggie Taylor worked hard all summer to collaboratively organize workshops , conceptualize a group gathering around local food and drink, and produce a meal in a lovely setting. She pulled it off, and then some! In Maggie’s back yard, we sat around home-made tables from discarded lumber found in an alley; set with 60-year-old china, vases of flowers from Rachel’s garden; placemats made from photos of local fruits, vegetables, and chickens (see photo); decorated with fabric and candles hanging in trees; and sprigs of herbs on each place setting. We all pitched in to prepare the food, and what food! Pesto and bread (thanks, Pekara!), chilled cucumber soup, salad greens with sweetpea currant tomatoes, grilled veggies, vegetable frittata, and half cantalopes filled with mint ice cream and warm plums. WOW. Almost everything was local, grown by the people who came to the meal. The four children, three dogs, and many adults were quite content when I left at 9:30 last night. We shared memories of food production and I met many new people, or got better acquainted with people who have been around as long as I have, but I haven’t talked to much. (Three of us were 56!) Thanks SO much, Maggie and all BNS participants!

May 6, 2009

Beyond the Chief by Edgar Heap of Birds

"Beyond the Chief" by Edgar Heap of Birds, 2009

We are privileged to have an installation by Hock E Aye Vi/Edgar Heap of Birds on the campus of the University of Illinois. I wrote about being a docent with the work in the previous post. But I wanted to reflect a little more on this powerful work. The backwards writing (FIGHTING ILLINI), which refers to the name of the University of Illinois sports teams, struck me first as mirror writing, which then led me to think about reflection. The way in which Heap of Birds prompts reflection by the use of official-looking signage along an ordinary campus street strikes me as a supremely effective way to repetitively insert the question of “who is hosting whom” in the landscape. It not only encourages reflection, but a reflexive query, “how do I fit in this picture?” because the pedestrian IS in the scene as one walks by.

All of the peoples named in the signs at one time lived in and with this land. Many were forcibly removed, or killed, but of course their descendants continue to live today, mostly not in Illinois. This land grant university is built upon land that does not belong to it…as various broken treaties and outright theft attest. So, Heap of Birds prompts us to reverse the post-colonial claims by reversing the writing. Further, he reclaims the land, in a sense, by installing signs that remind us of those who have come before, and the land that nurtures us. We re-read the landscape.

The signs are declarations: straightforward statements that subtly prompt questions. The metallic, highway- sign surfaces seem official yet make the observer wonder about other directions and instructions that should be questioned. They are ironic and funny too. I like the juxtaposition of the signs with the regular no parking sign and the parking meters. Heap of Birds’ signs are street furniture that call for attitudinal shifts and policy changes. I fully support the purchase of this work so that we can have permanent reminders of the history and present/ce of indigenous people on campus in the form of this public art work.

Street Librarianship

Today I stood outside the Native American House as a volunteer docent to answer questions from passersby about the art installation, “Beyond the Chief,” by Edgar Heap of Birds. “Beyond the Chief” is a series of twelve signs posted on both sides of Nevada Street on the University of Illinois (UIUC) campus, where the Native American House and American Indian Studies offices are located, along with Asian American Studies, La Casa Cultural Latina, African American Cultural House and African American Studies. The theme is one effort by an internationally-known artist to address the damage wrought by over 80 years of a sports mascot at UIUC known as Chief Illiniwek, a racist depiction of a fictional chief, invented by a band leader in the 1920s to support the “Fighting Illini” teams. Genocide and land theft are among many other deeds and ideas that the European invasion wrought on indigenous peoples.

"Beyond the Chief," Hock E Aye Vi/Edgar Heap of Birds, 2009
Heap of Birds’ red and white metal signs, which at first glance look like official informational signs, include the words “Fighting Illini” written backwards, over the words “Today your host is…” and then the names of twelve tribal groups. This area was the homeland of Peoria, Piankesaw, Wea, and Kaskaskia peoples. Others passed through what is now Illinois, including Kickapoo, Odawa, Sac, Peoria, Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Myaamia, and Meskwaki people. The signs line both sides of Nevada Street, starting at the corner, on the lawn in front of the Department of African American Studies, and then they are placed near the sidewalk so that one can move along to view each one.  The Pienkesaw sign in front of La Casa is in Spanish; other signs in English, Japanese and Korean, if I remember correctly. While Heap of Birds has produced these textimages on other campuses, this is the first time he has used languages other than English.
As Heap of Birds has written: “As we install these 12 sign panels, we walk forward on the University of Illinois campus to honor these ideals and intertribal brothers and sisters from a circular position of respect.” The signs will remain through December of 2009, unless the university purchases them.
My friend, the writer Carol Spindel, who wrote Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots (NYU Press, 2000), joined me for our two-hour “street talk.” She stood on the corner by a stop sign, and I stood between two signs across the street, in front of Native American House. Carol seemed engaged in quite a few conversations; I myself talked with sixteen people, singly or in pairs, over the course of a sunny afternoon. ShinJoung Yeo, a doctoral student in Information and Society, inspired this “street docent/librarian” idea when we had dinner together last week. She described a group that she helped start in 2004, Radical Reference. Volunteers basically took to the streets during the Republican National Convention in New York City and helped people get the information they needed—from where the nearest bathrooms were, to how to find a lawyer, to where there were clashes with police. People who weren’t on the street provided information via cellphone to those who were fielding questions. I thought it was a brilliant solution to everyday people’s needs.
Last week, artist Edgar Heap of Birds returned to the UIUC campus because his signs were vandalized three times since their installation in February. Director of American Indian Studies Robert Warrior invited him back for a brief visit for a forum to address the campus climate and vandalism. Sadly, this is the first campus installation in which his art has been damaged. Professor Heap of Birds encouraged those of us in the audience to take action, to make offerings to honor those who have gone before, to bring gifts to tie to the signs to help protect them, and to talk about the art around campus. Thus, ShinJoung’s idea of a “street librarian” prompted Carol and me to stand by the signs and interact with those pedestrians who paused to talk with us. While I didn’t have lengthy conversations, it was good to be able to talk with people about their thoughts about the art, and answer a few questions about the artist. I hope to do this again regularly."Beyond the Chief," Hock E Aye Vi/Edgar Heap of Birds, 2009

March 12, 2009


The Guggenheim currently has an exhibit called The Third Mind which features American Artists who contemplated Asia, from 1860 to 1989, with a special commission of a work by Ann Hamilton that circles the rotunda, spiraling down from the top of the spiral to the floor. The Guggenheim website has a short interview with Ann Hamilton in the video on the page about the exhibition. She insightfully asks “How do we dwell in the imaginative space that’s made not just because we understand where it comes from but it’s how it meets where we are here?” The “it” in this case is the source of ideas, behaviors, and forms that have been transmitted to us, in many ways, through time and across space. Thus, Hamilton’s piece, called “Human Carriage,” includes a “bell carriage” that is periodically launched by a young woman called “The Reader.” The carriage glides along an aluminum track affixed to the Guggenheim’s defining spiral and the four small Tibetan bells ding as they strike external clappers on the way. The sound is delicate, but captures the attention of the crowds milling about in the lobby. And then the sound dissipates, only to recur at another interval. Ethereal raw silk waves from the carriage, so that the piece includes movement in several ways, sound, visuals, and various textures. When the carriage arrives at the base, it triggers the release of a collection of sliced texts that have been waxed into bundles, which drops into a pile as the day progresses. Hamilton commented about textual sources being a significant means for the transmission of ideas, and I like how she chopped up books to indicate, at the very least, how concepts are changed, distorted, reshaped in the transmission process. This is a hard work to describe because it is multi-dimensional and transitory, but you can watch the video and get some idea. I visited with my friend Carol and she mentioned that when the lobby is crowded and everyone is spellbound, watching the carriage descend, the excitement in the Guggenheim is palpable. Everyone clapped when the bundled books dropped, she reported.

On this same trip to New York City, I visited the Isamu Noguchi Museum for the first time. It’s in Long Island City and is a total treat. Noguchi’s work is also featured in the Guggenheim show. By now (March 2009), the garden at the Noguchi Museum should be open after a restoration–so I will have to go back! The Akari light sculptures and the basalt sculpture are undoubtedly complemented by the works in the garden, which was closed when I was there.