Talking Whiteboards – week 1

For three weeks, I am inviting visitors to my studio, to talk out loud what any one (or several) of seven diagrams  inspire them to consider. I am posting this at the end of the first week. The diagrams are presented on rolling Whiteboard easels. They can be annotated, and wheeled into any desired configuration. The seven boards are:

  • Creativity (after Duchamp and Torrance);
  • Hairy Blob (notations about time);
  • a summary of Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that focuses not on the aura, but on political aesthetics;
  • Flexible Art Worlds (also a course I teach during this same, three week period);
  • Flusser’s Exile and Creativity (from Writings),
  • a Studio Critique Template, and
  • The Braid (discussed earlier in this blog)

Mostly, The Braid was engaged, at times supplemented by Studio Critique, Creativity (after Duchamp and Torrance) and Flusser’s Exile and Creativity. Thanks go to all who have already participated and are still scheduled to join me, to Asha Veal Brisebois, who is facilitating this project, to Jared Larson for recording, and to DCASE for contributing funds.

Video excerpts are posted as they become available.

Week 1

Day 1

Erik Brown and Gibran Villalobos: The Braid

Having not met before, Gibran and Erik visited on Monday. This led to a reading of The Braid that alternated between Arts Administration and Art Making perspectives, determining considerable overlap, noting blind spots in each approach, and provoking thoughts if and how it might be desirable to open those up. Brown_VillalobosBraid Day 1

Day 2

Mike Nourse, Gerald Brown, Michelle Jacobsen, Mi-yeon Kwon: The Braid, Studio Critique, and Creativity (Duchamp/Torrance).

Two art students, two arts administrators, non-profit and for-profit.  Michelle stayed over after class, Mike arrive from the Hyde Park Art Center with Gerald, and Mi-yeon joined their ongoing conversation after about 45 minutes. Diving first into making and related metaphor, the conversation moved from The Braid to the Creativity board, explored positions  performed in mediating through the Critique Template, and then back to The Braid and aspects of managing. Mi-yeon shared art fair experience from her perspective as a gallerist.

FB_P1010803FB_P1010798Critique_Day 2

Day 3

Nell Taylor and Allison Yasukawa: The Braid

Like Erik and Gibran on Monday, Nell and Allison had not previously met. Accidental pairings appear to be a powerful facilitation setting, as the participants explore each others interests and  adjust focus on their own knowledge. As Nell used The Braid to think through organizational development of the non-profit she leads, including struggles around the demand for measurement, Allison reciprocated with thoughts about her early proximity to scientific process, her art practice and her work in education. Nell TaylorFBP1010817.jpg

Day 4 Part 1

Alessia Petrolito and Asha Veal Brisebois: The Braid

A few weeks ago, just before she moved back to Italy, Alessia had come to my studio and spoken about Exile and Creativity, a text we had talked about when she was a student. Now she returned by Skype, to share thoughts about the Braid she had prepared. Asha volunteered to take notes, as her Chicago surrogate, but the two pretty quickly moved toward a conversation. It culminated in Alessia proposing a funnel, both into and from the managing area of the braid, as the receptor and focussing device of  the language and meaning  created in the corresponding areas.

Asha_Alessia Braid.png

Day 4 Part 2

Kirsten Leenaars: Exile and Creativity and The Braid

A visual artist, Kirsten arranged a stage with two boards, Flusser’s Exile and Creativity and The Braid, moving from left to right. Kirsten’s most recent art project was to engage American and recently immigrated youth in a summer camp around the meanings of home. She considered the impact it had on the youth to be tacitly aware of her European origin. Situating the growth of this particular project in The Braid, she noted the primacy of her artistic intent that can come to fruition with the valued support of curators’ trust, and is her guidance in negotiations with institutional representatives to access and shape appropriate settings.Screenshot 2016-07-14 23.16.01

Day 4 Part 3

Olivia Junell and Asha Veal Brisebois: The Braid

Asha introduced Olivia to The Braid board. A consummate Arts Administrator, Olivia spoke about her journey to embrace development as her calling, and spoke about ‘riding the braid together’ with artists in the implementation of the projects she chooses to be part of.Screenshot 2016-07-14 23.16.41

Day 5

Sade Ragsdale and Dorota Biczel: Exile and Creativity

I met Sade in 2014, when she walked into my residency at the Cultural Center and read The Hairy Blob board cold, requesting no introduction. I asked her then to be part of this project, which I was beginning to envision. She was paired with Dorota, who just arrived from the airport for a short stay in Chicago to teach a workshop in the Flexible Art Worlds class. Sade selected Flusser’s Exile and Creativity to engage, and Dorota, knowing the underlying text well, joined into the conversation. Sade spoke of her own development, from a young adult to an emerging professional, linking the questions she asks and choices she makes to the stages Flusser indicates. Dorota then proposed not a linear reading, but the creation of a Venn diagram, in which stages are no longer successive, but states are thought to coexist. This  session concluded with a discussion of individual thought scapes, or personal epistemic models, a theme I am exploring through the 3-Line Matrix. Sade envisioned a cloud and the movement of droplets, and Dorota discussed her proclivity for molecular structures.



week 2

Posted in art, events, facilitating, The Braid

The Braid v.2


Posted in art, The Braid

DCASE IAP Grant received

Here’s the application. Expressions of interest to work with me, over the next few months and on, are welcome. Initially, I am seeking artists willing to visit my studio (Chicago, Humboldt Park) and narrate existing diagrams on camera. June/July/August will be when much of this happens.

Project Title
Common Knowledge: Making Art 

*Short Project Description: Talking with artists and musicians about their deep, but often unarticulated knowledge about their ways of working in the studio, on stage, and behind the scenes, I then create diagrams to present their stories back to them and to the world. Diagrams are an art form that does not show a simple truth, but need to be actively interpreted. To that end, I will host reading and recording sessions in my studio. Resulting videos will be freely distributed on platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo.

*Artist StatementCultural Management as an academic field includes advocacy for artists’ needs. As an artist who teaches Cultural Management, I want to share the empowering material I have the opportunity to work with through my artwork – diagrams. My diagrams reflect professional knowledges artists have about their practices in the studio, as networkers, on the job and as members of communities. As with many professions, these ways of knowing are often not explicit, but applied in action. In short, artists and administrators often know much more than they give themselves credit for. I want to both draw attention to that fact and showcase that knowledge. My early diagrams presented entire arts organizations, drawing out how staff, board members, audiences and broader communities interacted. One project, “Flexible Art Worlds”, maps out the many organizations and settings that the art world is comprised of, including the art market, municipal and federal support systems, foundations and non-profits, but also design and technology, urban development and creative industries in general. More recently I have focused on individual artists, drawing inspiration from studio critiques. Eliciting and listening to what the artists I am in dialogue with know, I then create diagrams that condense what I hear. Using these diagrams as memory aides, stories can be reanimated and even fleshed out. They become universal. While I hope my diagrams are visually engaging, it is most important that they are in fact being used.

The project I am proposing here is both about collecting more information and animating existing diagrams. To that end, I intend to host video sessions in my studio, inviting a broad cross section of artists to make new diagrams with me and/or use my diagrams as a starting point to tell stories about making art. The goal is to distribute those videos freely on public platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo.

*Artist History and Biography: Only many years after the fact did I realize that my early involvement in experimental music (culminating in the participation in a John Cage Musicircus as a teenager) shaped my approaches to art, focusing on experimental notation and dialogue.

Thus, my art and teaching practices are tightly intertwined. I sought a teaching position to be able to be in dialogue with others. I use my diagrammatic art to extend the dialogue outside of the institution. As a consultant, I have conducted community engagement projects throughout Chicago neighborhoods, discussed grant writing with artists, diagramming and sharing results. Since 2008, I have talked with artists about how they conduct their work. I developed the format first at a residency at the Banff Centre in Canada, when artist colleagues invited me into their studios, requesting I use diagramming techniques to help them better articulate their practices. I have also theorized this work, extensively presenting at conferences. When I recently spent a sabbatical in Vienna, I experimented with diagramming not only visual artists’ approaches to their work, but also talked with sound artists, composers, administrators and social scientists. With all, I explored ways to create feedback loops. I do think about diagrams as useful pictures. Musicians responded to their diagrams with compositions and performances, visual artists were able to articulate their stories more clearly than before and often used their diagrams to introduce themselves to new collaborators. My best exhibitions allowed me to be present with my diagrams, giving performance lectures and encouraging audiences to contribute. Those opportunities arose at the City’s Open Studio in 2004, the MCA in 2011 and at the Cultural Center in 2014. This ongoing dialogue cycle is what makes my projects rewarding. I was recently able to extensively renovate my studio. I now want to deploy it as a site of continued conversation, and disseminate results publicly.

*Short-Term Artistic Goals: What is most important in my current artistic development is to make my work transparent. With that comes the need to create elements that clearly communicate the value of my diagrams in use. For many years I have live-performed the diagrams, in the classroom and at exhibition venues. This is when the work is at its best. I have always resisted documentation of my lectures. What matters and should be disseminated is how the users and audiences are engaged, not what I do. The reason for that is that any recorded presentation by me would appear canonical, undercutting the freedom and playfulness a diagram can generate. I needed to conceptualize a way to present not my, but my audience’s activity. I create my content based on interaction. This content needs to be returned to those I created it with. By creating a situation that turns the camera on the users, asking them to perform the diagrams, I can achieve that goal. Having been able to create a studio that can host these situations, I now need to implement a structured program of studio sessions at which I perform ‘behind the scenes’ and then record interpretative responses. There is no right or wrong response. What matters is individual uptake and redeployment. By accumulating many responses to each diagram, I can emphasize the playfulness and openness that characterizes how I perceive the best use of a diagram. To that end I will need to employ skilled videographers and editors. I also intend to offer small stipends to all interpreters. While I initially want to create a YouTube channel to deploy the interpretations, I hope other formal venues will arise as this work evolves.

Images + Videos


Posted in art, events

Performativity – focus on practice

This week’s reading: Karen Barad’s “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter”

Excerpt: “The point is not merely that there are important material factors in addition to discursive ones; rather, the issue is the conjoined material-discursive nature of constraints, conditions, and practices. The fact that material and discursive constraints and exclusions are intertwined points to the limited validity of analyses that attempt to determine individual effects of material or discursive factors.”


diagram pdf

While Barad posits two intra-acting components, abbreviated  above as ‘matter’ and ‘apparatus’, I decided to display the trefoil knot I am using in the attempt to diagram her relational onto-epistem-ology as showing three loops, in reference to the tripartite representationalist system she is proposing to replace. I am imagining the now vacated bottom loop to rise up and cradle the ‘agential cut’. In future versions of the above, which are doubtlessly needed, I want to indicate more mobility. Keeping that in mind while looking at the current diagram, examples of this image and this GIF offer a direction.

Clearly, I am interested in this text because it offers an intriguing model for the making/mediating/managing braid. Where Barad brings performativity into science studies, the same focus on practice will benefit ‘art studies’, or art as research about art.

Posted in remarks, The Braid

How artists work: The Braid

My understanding is that artist’s workflows – making, mediating and managing – are tightly embraided and cannot be observed in isolation from each other. This is complicated by the fact that each strand of the braid is embedded in a separate discourse. That impacts how artists are able to integrate all three, necessary activities into their practices. Here is a first stab at describing each strand. More is to follow.

I imagine the braid as embedded in a torus, a donut that shape-shifts topologically, depending on which activity is dominant at the moment.

The predominant, public and academic understanding of artists as makers [while bracketing the making process itself] is but a hangover from philosophic thought, still deployed to benefit market rhetorics. This is how I both experience and see the making process in a nutshell. What artists train themselves in and collegially compare notes about in studio visits and critiques is how to attend: to their own attractions and refusals, their observations, the world they find themselves in, to the constraints they tease out and to the objects they create through those constraints. Knowledges thus developed are deeply personal. Formal principles are developed in that manner. Akin to Eco’s ‘epistemological metaphor’, I believe that ‘content’ is but a magnet for attention.

Instead of working towards evolving a theory of attention, which can be derived from witnessing artist’s ways of working, mediating has recently been admitted into the explicitly accepted artistic skillset. Mediating includes at minimum the framing and presenting of talks, but also much more extensive writing and what in borrowing from scientific vocabulary is called research. Indeed, the academization of art has led to a fraternization with science that has sold the arts short. What creates confusion here is an apparent unawareness of the reverse flow of narrative processes in art making. Scientists mobilize perception analytically, to make it available to language (hypotheses) and then formalize this language to make it available to data through material experimentation, resulting in strictly formalized language as theories. Artists, on the other hand, observe their attention, materialize it in objects, assess objects in critique, where making processes then partially emerge into language. They finally narrate this evolution in retrospect. This is an ancillary process, as the result of the work consists of strictly formalized objects (performances, etc.). Properly respected, this workflow from attention into narration is a beneficial one. If attempted in the ‘scientific’ order, attention cannot come to fruition towards object creation.

While mediation skills might be perceived as residing in the academic vicinity of the studio (framed as various forms of criticality), it is only a natural outgrowth of accepting those narrative capacities as part and parcel of artwork production that occurs at sites of professional application. These are sites that demand managerial engagement: grant writing for increasingly project based support, an understanding of institutional and political discourses to create/make use of production, exhibition, performance, publication and other opportunities, curating/editing and forming artist run organizations to gain control of discourse, with that creating and managing teams, creating budgets, accounting for choices and expenses. As settings, these sites may be brief interactions with organized framework or variously framed organizations in their own right. In these settings, criticality and pragmatism meet. While often being competent managers indeed, artists in many instances have no access to vocabularies to aid them in  reflecting on the implications of their managerial choices, abilities and activities. With that, the impact of opportunities on the creation of constraints may be underestimated. On the other hand, those that do engage all strands consciously tend to call the entire operation their artwork.

The above is coming into focus as I am in conversations with artist colleagues. I use modalities of studio critique (slow observation, description, joint reflection) to elicit what is often, but not always tacit knowledge. In doing this, I am working in the artistic mode: I am attending to my attention, use drawings and diagrams to capture what resonates, talk with colleagues to allow an emergence into language, and am now beginning to narrate the evolving piece. In the process of knitting the narrative, writing by others will be drawn upon in support. I would be willing to call this artistic research. [material, more material]

Process diagram copy




Posted in remarks, The Braid

Straw Star

straw star text.JPG

Here are the recent finds from the 1960’s. Properly framed now, in the snapshot.jpg_L1070175.JPG

3_Line Letter.JPG

And a few current studio moments:

Eric Leonardsen.jpgduignan_composite copy.pngFalzone composite2 sm.jpg

Klement composite2_flat copy


Thanks to Rachel Harper for creating this show:

Posted in 3Line_Matrix, exhibitions

Thinking in Threes – a conversation with Deborah Boardman

Part I

July 18, 2014, I talked with Deborah Boardman, who had come to the Chicago Cultural Center so I could ask her about how she works, as I’ve been asking other artists since summer 2008. We sat at a table off to the side, along the east wall of the expansive public space on the first floor, outside my exhibition of diagrams, which we had walked through for a bit first. The municipal AC was blasting.

I took notes. Deborah said: “I think in threes, always.” She explained. There’s actively painting. There’s an intermediary stage, and there’s grunt work. The intermediary stage was elaborated first. It is characterized by free-flowing thought and serendipity. Things overheard are captured in sketchbooks, as lists and in open-ended image making. The grunt work, in contrast, is intentional. It presents an intellectual anchor. Research and readings on current topics, and also meetings and conversations with people, strangers as well, provide excitement and inspiration. Concept and substance are assigned to this realm. What is acquired or considered here cannot just be executed, though. It contrasts with the flow of making form, as experienced in actively painting, which is laden with an unbearable anxiety – is it the right form? Thus, there is great tension between actively painting and intentional research, full of frustration and perceived misfirings.

The activity of painting first of all requires physical movement. Thus, it can be initiated by moving in the studio. Sweeping. Dancing. Singing. Those preparations ease anxiety, the fear of the empty space. They promote doing it anyways, in iterations, in the face of not liking the results. Throughout, unanticipated convergences occur, components find each other. The sketchbook helps here, too. Actively painting also hooks back into the grunt work. In connecting to the research stream, what becomes apparent is that liking or not liking ‘it’, which is form, is superseded by presence. Ego is suspended in tying into a larger truth, being part of something larger, being present for it.

The larger truth coincides with the larger collective, the unique circumstance of being human. The individual expression by an artist then creates space and movement, may encourage others to do likewise, weave a larger pattern of communal expression. Deborah wondered if this could be likened to social sculpture.

I asked how she selected her materials, the medium. Painting had seemed like the default. Childhood excitement was met with praise, and even though she tried other things, she always returned to a deep, physical satisfaction evoked by brush and paint. Those ignited primordial feelings.

When I inquired about themes, Deborah emphasized ‘humans as part of nature’, framing nature to include the built environment and institutions. A first iteration of that she cited contending with were Mary’s stations of the cross as female suffering, asking what lies beyond a male hierarchy. Looking later at flooring and what is underneath the floor in churches, older ones in Europe and even older settings in India, Deborah said she sought evidence of encompassing systemic understanding, so deeply complex that it might be holistic. In India she felt that artifacts of daily life embodied that systemic presence, something absent in the US. Returning to painting, she described the canvas as a surface that opens up, that dissolves into understanding, standing under.

Part II

Entering the notes into the Fractal 3-Line Matrix diagram template

We took the notes from our conversation across the hallway into the gallery. There was no need to parse them for three prevalent premises, as the template requires, since Deborah had already framed her way of working through three headings. We entered each on one of the intersecting lines:

Horizontally, we wrote: Actively painting. Terminal points of this axis (each axis understood as a gradation between the end points) were Anxiety and Flow. Elaborating on the conversation, Anxiety was further broken down into Void, Judgment and Right Form. It appeared that each of those terms had a negative connotation we collectively named Blocks, consisting of Comparing, Fear and Resistance, which then merged into the positive poles of Knowing, Intuition and Doing it anyways. That was mirrored in the clarification of Flow, specified through Movement, Singing and Tactile Experience, carrying the Enablers,  Pleasure, extending to work with Tools; joined through the newly introducedKundalini (replacing initially noted Masturbation) to Walking/Dancing/Sweeping, which is related to work with Paint; and Improv, exemplified through work as Singing Along.

Sloping left to right: Sketchbook: Serendipity [Attention to Emergence], was flanked by Overhearing and Thinking. The Sketchbook axis served to join an exterior realm connected to overhearing to an interior realm containing thinking.

Rising left to right we entered: Research, bracketed by Concept and Substance. Deborah saw Concept as rigid, framed and structured, marked by Ego containing both Liking and again, Knowing. Shape could be arrived at by Mapping or Uncovering. Moving towards Substance, the communal realm was emphasized with Relation (Personal to encompassing all of Humanity), Larger Truth (Incarnate and Unknowable) and Witnessing (actively through Searching and passively through Allowing).

Using the matrix helped to clarify, in fact dissipate the ‘great tension between actively painting and intentional research’. When stepping back to take in the picture we had arrived at, the Concept terminus of Research was hinged with the Thinking terminus of Sketchbook: Serendipity [Attention to Emergence] by an overarching reference to Tension, thereby linking interiority to a tensile form of strengthas in a muscle contracting, while exteriority offers release into connectivitywhen the opposite points, Overhearing on Sketchbook: Serendipity [Attention to Emergence] and Substance on Research are joined by Expression – sandwiching Actively Painting in between.

Part III

sketching a scenario

Scenarios are prompted by image cues. Here it was the picture Deborah had evoked, of the canvas opening up, giving way to systemic humanity:

A floor tile tilted up, becoming paper or canvas, while ground support, a raw clay, was still clinging to it, forming a slab. Not wanting to appear like a tombstone (seems only men’s graves are ever said to give birth; well, re-birth – nod to Bowie), this tile/slab/canvas grew into a grid, warped into a wall, architecture (arkhi – chief, tekton – builder). The surfaces opened, albeit not as windows out, but passages in.

Birth (systemic stability) contains death (individual certainty). Painting, Deborah knew dangerous business, and dangerous business knew her. To join them into grids, as installations, buffers individual images, now made exemplars; the suffering of privation is offered a communal respite, relief, even abundance. 

Posted in 3Line_Matrix, art