Extase is pleased to present “Infernal Court,” a group exhibition commemorating the gallery’s one-year anniversary. On view will be new and recent work by Aram Atamian, Danny Bredar, Yoo Hee Chang, Maryam Faridani, Garrett Fees, Alex Keller, Alberto Oretga, and Polina Protsenko – all 2019 graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA programs. “Infernal Court” is comprised of video, sculpture, ceramics, works on paper, painting, and performance. The exhibition marks the fifth show at Extase and borrows its title from John Milton’s biblically-inspired text Paradise Lost.
All of the works selected for “Infernal Court” are in some way concerned with the rise of global nationalism, varying representations of nationalism and national identity, and how these concepts surrounding our nationalistic moment manifest visually. Iranian artist Maryam Faridani’s pair of gif videos depict a billowing Iranian flag on one iPad screen and an American flag on an adjacent one. As the already somewhat contentious U.S.-Iranian relationship currently frays due to regular bombastic verbal attacks by the U.S. president, Faridani reflects on the fact that flags can signify nationalism, often brandished to stoke patriotism and secure one’s sense of identity as being attached to place. Flags can be divisive symbols, waved and weaponized at American Alt-Right rallies, Trump MAGA (Make America Great Again) conventions, and other political events. Additionally, in Faridani’s work she considers her Iranian identity in tandem with her new home of Chicago. Her gif video works of two different flags speak to her interest in the history of animation and the aesthetics of gifs, which can be used to disseminate information climatically and through the speediest means.
For “Infernal Court,” Aram Atamian creates a site-specific performance entitled An American Wins in Russia in response to the heavily redacted Mueller report and the battle William Barr and the current government are engaging in as they fight to keep much of what should be a public report private. The piece springs out of the role-playing subterfuge deployed by the Internet Research Agency around the 2016 Presidential election in which Russian hackers impersonated US coal miners, Muslim-Americans, BLM activists—among others. Weaving the Mueller report’s testimony with Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, a turn of the century Russian play about real estate and the collapse of the aristocracy at the dawn of the Russian Revolution, An American Wins in Russia questions the weaponizing of fiction in the service of ‘Perception Management’. Akin to Faridani, Atamian is interested in information dissemination in today’s post-truth moment. As of Tuesday, June 18, the Washington Post stated that since coming to office Trump has made over “10,796 false or misleading claims.” Atamian utilizes humor in his performance to speak to the absurdity of these nationalistic times, rife with “alternative facts” and misinformation.
The artists in “Infernal Court” hail from Korea, Armenia, Tehran, Estonia, Mexico, and the U.S. In addition to the exhibition being about nationalism, these eight artists are also invested in making work about their cultural identities. Polina Protsenko’s basement performance – 20 Minutes of Separation (Pаздельный) – serves as an homage to a 1975 performance by Czech artist Jan Mlcoch, which also occurred in a basement with a duration of 20 minutes. In Lara Weibgen’s text Performance as Ethical Memento: Art and Self-Sacrifice in Communist Czechoslovakia, Mlcoch is discussed as equating the body with the ground. The ground then represents symbolically and literally the battle for autonomy that was fought in postcommunist and postsocialist countries. For Mlcoch, it was critical to create private spaces for art that could exist during a time of constant surveillance and limitations on privacy. Protsenko’s site specific performance is about dualisms and disparate concepts coexisting in tandem with one another: violence and lyricism, separation and closure, the self and the other. Traditional orthodox candles will be used in the performance so that she may relocate herself within the duality of her Russian American identity. This is Protsenko’s second show at Extase.
For Danny Bredar’s second exhibition at Extase, he is showing new ceramics and a painting titled Pernkopf Hand. Ceramic sculptures of ducks titled Small Duck Decoy and Large Duck Decoy – and which the artist dubs “anamorphic folk art” – demonstrate the dualistic roles a decoy plays. Bredar states: “the decoy is a lure, a pretender, life-like, maybe comical, but it allows the hunter to kill.” Growing up he spent weekends on the eastern shore of Maryland, adjacent to a culture of camouflage-wearing hunters in pick-ups. Bredar’s third ceramic piece, Foucault, is connected to his ongoing research into Velázquez’ Kitchen Scene in the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection. This ceramic sculpture relates Foucault’s epistemic grid of knowledge to the shimmering Velázquez concavity — the negative spaces of the grid “sink down” and become concave like the brass bowl. All three of these striking sculptures, though ceramic, appear to be bronze due to the Manganese Dioxide luster glaze he made for duplicitous effect. Finally, Bredar also will have a painting on view that speaks to the exhibition’s theme of nationalism. Pernkopf Hand portrays the ‘exploded’ palm of a right hand, exposing muscles, veins, and ligaments. Eduard Pernkopf was an Austrian anatomy professor and Nazi working at the University of Vienna. The corpses portrayed in his anatomical atlas were executed political prisoners of the Holocaust. Perhaps the painting in “Infernal Court” is an example of nationalism’s roots in fascism. As Federico Finchelstein writes in his 2017 UC Press book From Fascism to Populism in History, “When this ideology of violence fused with extreme right-wing nationalism, imperialism, and non-Marxist antiparlimentarian leftist tendencies of revolutionary syndicalism, fascism as we know it today crystallized.”
Yoo Hee Chang will have new ceramics on view, all made recently at a residency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Open Kitchen. Her second time showing with Extase, Chang’s deskilled ceramics are not so much concerned with nationalism as they are about Korean identity and female identity through a Korean lens. Chang’s work reflects her belief that some women in Korea are pressured to conform to Westernized ideals of beauty and also that women are supposed to adhere to a more bromidic feminine code of etiquette. Chang’s delicate ceramic flower sculptures are designed to appear stereotypically feminine. Concurrently, though the sculptures are of traditionally feminine motifs and painted in pale hues, they are also lumpy and bulbous in other areas, consecutively luring and repelling the viewer. The flowers, paired with No. 2 ceramic pencils and paintbrushes, rest in chunky, somewhat lopsided vessels and are arranged in an installation on a shelf. Chang’s humorous sculptures beckon the viewer in only to be greeted by a small ceramic naked lady giving the finger.
Garrett Fees’ two sculptures are material and process-based investigations expanding what characterizes print media. A sculptural wall work of a Scream mask from the infamous 1996 slasher film is combined with a hospital-like tube that supports a dangling plastic heart. Made exclusively with found materials, the piece also includes an office organizer and ice scoop. Because “Infernal Court” is also about the horrors that can stem from nationalism when it reaches its full extremist potential, this new work somewhat comically jabs at feelings of horror, chaos, and despair. In the Gray Room, Fees has a large floor sculpture with a silkscreen print on chiffon that wraps around one of the most globally popular and functionally temporary shelf fixtures (the “Billy” shelf by Ikea). Fees references art history with a reworked print on chiffon by Anglo-American painter John Singleton Copley’s of his painting Watson and the Shark, located on the back surface of the shelf. The depicted scenes correlate with one another and suggest time through distance and historical truth and/or distortion through artistic vision. The large print on chiffon portrays an edited scene of a boat being driven (originally by the character Goofy) toward a large rock. In the edit the skipper has become Disney’s version of John Smith, an early American historical figure that was part of establishing the first colony footholds of settlement in North America. The boat has been given eyes; the material of the vessel itself is animated and reacting, being granted a sense of life of its own. The inanimate products of industrialization are now being imposed with a responsibility for their own materialization. Objects or material that are either utilized or dormant in surplus entangle a reflection of human life. The entire scene is set in a perspective-shifted readymade backdrop. A dog stands at the water’s edge peering past the scene toward the viewer. In Renaissance paintings, dogs were used to signify the tone of the setting and point toward either a chaotic or calm reflection of the contemporary time. This device is used regularly in the work and in this particular print/historical painting, the domesticated animal appears to be engaging directly and breaking the wall between the allegory and the actuality.
Alex Keller will have a new text piece on view as well as several small intricate drawings of playing cards. The black and white text piece is contemporary artist Joe Andoe’s artist statement from the 1980’s with the names redacted. The redactions that Keller makes to this artist statement reference the aforementioned Mueller report redactions. What is more, Andoe, known for his photorealistic works, makes paintings of cowboys redrawn to embody the troublingly sincere tone of language around nostalgia and national identity. And the presence of black letters on a white background very literally references language. The card drawings are concerned with the unconscious yet systemic valuation placed on identity, nationality or other aspects of the self that are oftentimes dealt rather than chosen.
Alberto Ortega’s piece titled Department of Bi-National Affairs happens as an unexpected response to his participation in the open call for Border Wall Designs requested by the Department of Homeland Security. Ortega and his team (MADE Collective) proposed to create a new country called Otra Nation, shared by Mexico and the USA. The video presents a rant recorded by a videoblogger from Texas that believed that the proposal was actually due to happen and would subsequently dismantle the border. While reading the proposal in its entirety, and choking back anger, the woman asks for Donald Trump’s help in “stopping this madness.” In an attempt to engage in a conversation with a delusional far right reality, Ortega sent a letter to this person pretending to be the new director of Bi-National Affairs for this new nation. There was no response to the letter and the video was removed from the platform afterwards.
“Infernal Court” is meant to be an exhibition celebrating the gallery’s first year, but it is also a time to reflect on issues of our current moment that can be digested and further understood with the assistance of contemporary art.
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Aram Atamian (b. 1986 USA) is an artist based in Chicago and Yerevan, Armenia. He works in live performance, video, installation, and 3D renderings. Atamian has exhibited in Italy at the 57th Venice Biennale (Arts and Globalization Pavilion) and Tethys Gallery (Florence). Atamian has exhibited in Armenia at the Institute of Contemporary Art, HAYP Pop Up Gallery, and NPAK/ACCEA. In the U.S. his work has been shown at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries, Links Hall, DFBRL8R, Ohklahomo! (Chicago), Dorchester Art Project (Boston), The Maysles Film Institute (NYC), Chashama (NYC), and the PIMA Institute (NYC). He holds an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Danny Bredar (b. 1992 Denver, Colorado) is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019 and graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Environmental Studies. He is the 2019 recipient of the Chicago Arts Club fellowship, and he completed a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center last summer.
Yoo Hee Chang (b. 1991 Seoul, Korea) is a painter and ceramicist based in Seoul, South Korea. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BFA from RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). Chang has exhibited in Seoul, Hong Kong, New York, and Chicago, and is represented by Ghana Art (Seoul). She recently completed a ceramics residency at Open Kitchen (Milwaukee) and her work will be exhibited in July 2019 at Saint Kate Arts Hotel’s inaugural show as part of the John Riepenhoff Experience.
Maryam Faridani (b. 1993 Tehran, Iran) is a Chicago-based Iranian artist. She examines identity construction in the age of social media and its contemporary problematization. Her work focuses on issues of identity, online culture, and social media as an extension of the self. She works with her own life narratives and experiences through experimental moving image and video installations. She has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a BFA in Film and Theater from the Art University of Tehran.
Garrett Fees (b. 1988 Alexandria, Virginia) is a Chicago-based artist who grew up and lived in Fairfax Virginia until the age of 18. He moved to Richmond, Virginia to attend Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and received a BFA in Painting and Printmaking (PAPR) from VCU in 2011. Fees lived and maintained a studio practice of Printmaking in Richmond, Virginia. He is the recipient of the New Artists Society Scholarship from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received his MFA in 2019.
Alex Keller (b. 1987 Harrisburg, PA) is a Chicago-based artist who received his MFA in Painting & Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019. He received his BFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Alberto Ortega (b. 1989 Pachuca, Mexico) is a Mexican artist and architect based in Mexico City. He received his MFA in Architecture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BS in Architecture from La Salle University (Mexico). He is the recipient of the Jumex Foundation for Contemporary Art Grantee, a Kurtich Scholar, and the New Artists Society Scholarship.
Polina Protsenko (b. 1993 Tartu, Estonia) is an Estonian interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago and Boston. She holds a BFA with distinguished honors in Studio for Interrelated Media and Art Education from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and her MFA in Performance Studies from the School of Art Institute of Chicago. Polina’s art making is a performative process which focuses on human intimacy and agency in a social context as a way to examine our relationships with one another. These experiences are often produced through gestures, collaborations, scripted interactions, site specific installations, print media, and videos. Recently, her work methodically unveils piercing claims within her own womanhood and cultural shifts to activate closure and disrupt structure. She invites participants to re-imagine the potential capabilities our bodies and voices hold within a space.