On Nov. 7, the Illinois Women Artists Project will host its Fifth biennial symposium at Bradley University, “Champions of the Environment, 1960s to the Present.”
The subject is environmental activism, and it’s an event that shouldn’t be missed if you have even the slightest noxious-planet anxiety. Since mainstream news media is as much of a plague as the future they describe, come to this in-depth exploration of our increasingly at-risk environmental moment by artists who know precisely how to cope.
This is Kristan McKinsey’s second seminar as Director of the Illinois Women Artists Project, and she has also organized two wonderful group shows in the University Galleries. Bradley Department Chair Gary Will, Gallery Director Erin Buczynski, Art Faculty Dr. Sarah Glover and Margaret LeJeune served as advisors to the event.
The symposium is replete with significant artists with compelling stories to tell, critical positions to defend and extraordinary work to show. The keynote speaker is Karen McCoy from the Kansas City Art Institute who’ll lecture 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7. McCoy is widely known for large-scale sculpture and installations that circumscribe the volatile space between nature and culture. She explores abused landscape histories with remarkable aesthetic and intellectual sensitivity. Her most recent work, titled “Consuming Questions” is a striking installation that includes scores of objects caked with Missouri River mud.
Don’t miss the panel discussion Friday morning led by critic Susan Snodgrass that includes fellow Chicagoans Frances Whitehead and Sara Black. Titled “Art Embracing Science,” it directly engages technology in collaboration with urban planners and government agencies. This discussion is about a genuine art practice rather than cosmetic projects that just obscure failed city planning.
Snodgrass is a 2018 recipient of a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for her blog, In/Site: Reflections on the Art of Place. She served as a corresponding editor for Art in America for 19 years and is a former senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She also taught courses on the history of women artists and feminist art practice at DePaul University and Columbia College.
Whitehead describes herself as a civic practice artist who brings “the methods, mindsets and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping the future city.” She joins the sensibilities and skills of a studio artist to issues of sustainability and new “concepts of heritage and remediation.” Her work is designed to address all publics, (not just artists and niche audiences) deploying the knowledge of artists as social “change agents.” Whitehead has worked collaboratively via ARTetal Studio since 2001. She is Professor of Sculpture + Architecture at SAIC.
Sara Black, also from SAIC, is an interdisciplinary artist who essentially rehabilitates and repurposes found materials. She works across visual art, ecology and systems theory, fully engaging theories of new materialism and ecocriticism.
Friday includes a late morning lecture by Candace Hunter, a multi-disciplinary artist, activist and former arts correspondent for WTTW Chicago. Hunter constructs vivid story fragments about victimized populations, such as women fighting for potable water and men on death row. Her mixed media artworks are intimate musings and cultural critiques about forgotten and/or misrepresented communities. She’s represented by three figurative mixed media wall pieces in Hartmann Gallery that make her narratives visceral and memorable.
Cherie Sampson, an associate professor of art at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is screening a performance/video in the Heuser Art Gallery. “Uphold (from below)” is exemplary of her contemplative Butoh-influenced land-dance and prose. She conflates the memory of a disfiguring surgery and scars of a forest storm with ghost-like in-situ body movements that ameliorate the weight of in-betweenness and alarm.
An extraordinary 8-foot drawing of a dying tanoak tree titled “7000 Marks” is a collaboration between SAIC sculptor Sara Black and University of Chicago faculty Amber Ginsburg. Seven thousand pencils produced from the tree fixed on a plinth in the center of the gallery feel like a bed of nails. These particular works are powerful yet solemn considerations of the biosphere that we can’t afford to keep parceled and distant. They prove that environmentalism and ritualized experience can result in stunningly beautiful work and are likely the only media platform worth viewing about Earth on Earth.