For creative people, online platforms are spaces where we find inspiration, collaborate, and learn from one another. But they are also businesses that increasingly police the boundaries of our experience, extracting information from our expressions and manipulating our behavior without consent. How can artists contend with the current state of the Internet, which has been massively influenced by corporate interests despite the utopic ideals that made up its foundation? Guest edited by Are.na, this new edition of Soundboard—Walker Reader’s sixth to date—invites Furtherfield's Ruth Catlow, artist Mimi Onuoha, writer/product leader Bo Ren, Danielle Robinson (Code for Science & Society) and designer Andy Pressman, and artist/writer Gary Zhexi Zhang how to best go about it.
An emergent turn in Indigenous filmmaking seeks to foster these conditions for self-determination not only representationally but also formally. These films reject settler-colonial modes of film production and shift their lens toward Indigenous epistemology and philosophy—both in the production process and within their structure and logic.
—Filmmaker Adam Kahlil (Ojibway)
Today, we at the Walker Reader published the fifth in our ongoing Soundboard series, a recently developed tool that lets multiple authors weigh in on the same central question through a single interface. Synched with the Walker Art Center’s INDIgenesis film series, this edition looks at what it really means to make film through an indigenous lens. In the spirit of not-about-us-without-us, I invited Hud Oberly (Comanche/Osage/Cado), coordinator of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, to guest edit this round. He contributed a writing himself and invited filmmakers Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chuck/Pechanga), Adam Kahlil, and Alex Lazarowich (Cree) to share their perspectives. Each author brings a unique history and perspective, as well as a relevant news hook: Hopinka (who wrote an Artist Op-Ed for us in 2018, was just selected as a guest curator for the 2019 Whitney Biennial; Lazarowich’s documentary FAST HORSE (2018) won the Special Jury Prize for Directing at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival; and Khalil has just been announced as a featured artist in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Publication of this edition of Soundboard comes just days before the INDIgenesis series’ Sundance Institute Native Shorts Screening, which will be introduced by Oberly.
For Walker Reader’s fourth installment of Soundboard, a new multi-author feature, I took a most obvious news hook—New Year’s resolutions—to more substantive question: how should art museums commit to change in the coming year? Seb Chan (chief experience officer at Melbourne’s ACMI, formerly at Cooper Hewitt), Laura Raicovich (writer, curator, former director of the Queens Museum), Nicole Ivy (inclusion strategist, futurist, former AAM inclusion director), and Anthony Romero (artist, Tufts professor, cofounder of a Latinx art funder) shared their perspectives, offering smart suggestions are wealth inequality, representation, salary transparency, and the myth of museum neutrality.
The project follows three other Soundboard panels:
• How Should Museums Deal with Art by Alleged Harassers? Featuring Rashayla Marie Brown, Deborah Culinan, Tyler Green, Theresa Sotto, and Jillian Steinhauer (March 2018)
• How Will We Queer Design Education Without Compromise? Guest-edited by Nicole Killian and featuring Kristina Ketola Bore, Nate Pyper, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, and Ramon Tejada (July 2018)
• What Can Art Do That Journalism Can’t? Featuring Natalia Almada, Jackie Amézquita, Dorit Cypis, and Ifrah Mansour
“What kinds of institutions could be better positioned to gather diverse groups of people around complex dialogue?” Deborah Cullinan, CEO of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, surfaced this question—in reference to art centers—in the inaugural edition of Soundboard, the Walker Art Center’s new multi-author tool we launched in March 2018. It seems a fitting way to launch a recap of the diverse array of engaging stories presented by Walker Reader last year—from a politically engaged curatorial essay on SIah Armajani’s Seven Rooms for Hospitality to a call to arms for more ethical graphic design to an array of commissioned essays critique art institutions themselves. Read on.
Walker Reader’s annual series of year-end lists returns for its seventh and biggest edition. Twenty-four artists from across disciplines and geographies weighed in on the most noteworthy events, ideas, and news items of the year. A few of my favorites: Christine Sun Kim, an artist whose first language is ASL; Citizen author Claudia Rankine; sisters and podcasters (How to Survive the End of the World) Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown (who wrote the excellent book, Emergent Strategy); St. Paul poet Danez Smith; Native American visual artist Andrea Carlson; black AI-based artist and technologist Stephanie Dinkins, and Chitra Ganesh, an artist whose practice brings “to light narrative representations of femininity, sexuality, and power typically absent from canons of literature and art. “
Some of the value of publishing by museums can’t be quickly or easily quantified but impact a museum’s reputation and promote important ideas nonetheless. Here’s one recent case.
The Met’s new exhibition, Art of Native America, got a lot of buzz due to the venue it was shown in: it’s the first time the museum has presented Native American art in its American art wing (not in its Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas galleries). I recently learned that the exhibition’s catalogue puts a Walker Art Center event front and center: its lead essay, by American Wing curator Sylvia Yount, references Comanche curator Paul Chaat Smith in the epigraph, first paragraph, and footnotes—from his Sept. 2017 Walker talk and resulting Walker Reader essay/video—noting that his declaration to Walker audiences that “the most American thing ever is in fact American Indians” may “be viewed as an underlying principle guiding” the Met’s show. I’m pleased that a Walker moment has been valuable to a sister institution. But I don’t claim this entirely as a publishing success: what I did was take the transcript from a Walker talk by Smith—programmed by Nisa Mackie and the Education department—and enhance it with lots of images. I was merely the amplifier. But that’s one key role of museum publishing: treating (and promoting) programmatic content in ways that can maximize (or at least enhance) its accessibility, appeal, and memetic value.
Meredith Monk—the 75-year-old composer, vocalist, visual artist, and educator—has performed at the Walker more than a dozen times since 1974. With this week’s performance of Monk’s Cellular Songs, I wondered: how can Walker Reader contribute new, engaging ideas about an artist who’s been so extensively written on?
Monk is known for many things, but chief among them are: her wordless vocalization style (she believes the voice is an instrument and that words often say less than phonemes), her Buddhist practice, her role as a pioneering woman in a male-dominated world of experimental music and art. Many of these aspects of her long, impressive career have been covered already, in a video by Tate Modern, a Meet The Composer appearance, an On Being interview, scholarly essays and interviews (including in the Walker’s 1998 catalogue Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham / Meredith Monk / Bill T. Jones), in Lion’s Roar magazine, and in numerous videos with Buddhist practitioners. What could I possibly add to that rich, important history?
In the end, I went with a traditional format—a standard interview—but hopefully it stands out for the timeliness of the discussion: in these tumultuous times, how does this celebrated artist stay balanced, and how does her work address this instability? Long by Walker Reader standards, the 3,500-word discussion covered her own reaction to #MeToo, and her experiences being a woman coming up in an experimental art scene dominated by men—
—to her rare decision to include words, instead of nonverbal vocalizations, in her newest work, Cellular Songs:
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Related: I’ve long admired Monk, going back at least as far as the Walker’s 1998 exhibition Art Performs Life, and while I didn’t mention it to her, our connection was a tiny form of reunion: back in 2001, I send her a letter asking her to be part of my conceptual art project Signifier, Signed… She complied, mailing back my “autograph” written in her hand, something I truly appreciate and treasure.
At Walker Reader, our new Soundboard series is picking up steam: this week we launched the third installment, featuring four artists: filmmaker Natalia Almada, a MacArthur genius and US/Mexico dual citizen; Jackie Amézquita, an artist who did a 178-mile performative walk from the border to downtown LA, embodying the journey of many immigrants and echoing her own walker from Guatemala to the US as a teenager; LA-based mediator, artist, and homeless advocate Dorit Cypis, and Minneapolis-based playwright, poet, and refugee from Somalia, Ifrah Mansour. The framing:
One of the things recent events at the Mexico/US border have shown us is the power of documentation: audio, video, and photos that indelibly show the human impact of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and all that comes with it—family separation, children in cages, “tender age” facilities for babies and toddlers, no predetermined plan for family reunification. Two of the most indelible moments for many of us: the photo of a sobbing two-year-old Honduran girl being confronted by border patrol agents and audio of 10 Central American children held in a US Customs and Border Protection facility, including a 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleading to be reunited with her father and aunt. While the viral response to these images underscores the power of documentary practices, it also raises questions worth considering for those of us in the art world: What can art do that journalism can’t? If documentation can stop us in our tracks, is it art’s job to help us move beyond that, to process what we encounter through journalism? And how does art that embodies events in the news help us achieve real understanding? In the third edition of Soundboard, we posed these questions to four artists with close links to the immigrant experience: a documentary filmmaker with lives on both sides of the border; an immigrant who entered the US illegally, on foot; a socially engaged artist and mediator; and a Somali refugee whose art often deals with trauma faced by refugee children.
Following the April 2018 launch of "The Centers of Somewhere," filmmaker Sky Hopinka's contribution to the Walker Art Center's Artist Op-Eds series, the museum has scheduled a special evening with the artist. Join me and assistant curator/archivist Ruth Hodgins on September 13, 2018 for a screening of Hopinka's short films, followed by a discussion with the artist. Pick up a free copy of the op-ed pamphlet, and join us all for a post-event reception at Minneapolis' Bockley Gallery.
Hopinka's op-ed is also reprinted in a beautiful new editioned book, Around the Edge of Encircling Lake, published by Milwaukee's Green Gallery Press. It includes several of Hopinka's essays, poetry, images from his experimental films, and links to a few of his moving image works.
Today at Walker Reader, we launched the second installment of our Soundboard platform, a tool that allows multiple voices to weigh in on the same question. The topic: "How do we queer design education without compromise?" Guest editor Nicole Killian invited four designer/educators—Kristina Ketola Bore, Nate Pyper, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, and Ramon Tejada—to consider ways to create a non-binary design canon. Commissioned for our popular design vertical, The Gradient, the series includes ad-style graphics created by designer/developer Jasio Stefanski and design director Emmet Byrne. It follows the inaugural edition of Soundboard, which addressed the #MeToo movement, museums, and allegations of sexual harassment by artist Chuck Close.
“A difference between learning and knowing is little more than asking questions without the entitlement of an answer, and honoring the vulnerability in saying and hearing, ‘I don’t know.’” In his Walker Art Center Artist Op-Ed, experimental filmmaker Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) ruminates on power, privilege, and identity—including his own—as he responds to the burden of representation and authority placed on groups of traditionally oppressed people. Hopinka's op-ed, like all 12 in this ongoing series, is accompanied by a print-on-demand pamphlet. Like Postcommodity's op-ed of 2017, Hopinka's pamphlet will be released during a September artist talk at the Walker (details to come).
What should museums do when artists do wrong? Here at the Walker Art Center, allegations of impropriety by Chuck Close, an artist we have deep ties to, have shaken us. What do we need to consider when (and if) showing work by artists like Close? How do our acquisitions, presentation, and interpretation processes need to change? What else do we need to think about? To tackle these questions openly, we invited five art world experts to share their thinking in the inaugural edition of Soundboard. This new tool allows for multiple commissioned essays on the same topic within the same interface:
Sharing their views are individuals from diverse perspectives, job functions, and backgrounds: artist Rashayla Marie Brown, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts CEO Deborah Cullinan, critic/historian Tyler Green, Hammer Museum educator Theresa Sotto, and arts journalist Jillian Steinhauer.
Each author's perspective appeared within the Walker Reader feed with a unique, Jenny Holzer–inspired title graphic, designed by the Walker's amazing Design Studio, which was then resized for sharing on social media:
In hopes of learning from our readers as well, we linked each piece to our discussions on Twitter and Facebook and offered, for the first time, direct access to our editor (me) for feedback or suggestions on future Soundboard themes.
Launching this new feature with such a substantive question, and such thoughtful contributions, sets a high bar for future iterations, but I think we're up to the challenge.
Update April 1, 2018: The Minneapolis Star Tribune has amplified this discussion with a piece by reporter Jenna Ross.
I'm proud to stand with my colleagues in support of outgoing Queens Museum ED Laura Raicovich and the ideals she represents. Read the open letter I signed along with 37 others affirming the role of art museums in advancing public discourse around culture, community, and politics.Read More
From indigenous self-determination to Bon Iver's album imagery, a new manifesto from Werner Herzog to artists reacting to Trump's plan to rescind DACA, here's the top content at the Walker Art Center's digital magazine in 2017.
To commemorate the year that was, we at the Walker Art Center invited an array of artists, designers, performers, and filmmakers to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2017. Ranging from the political to the poetic, the personal to the pop cultural, their selections offer a gestalt of a year that was both troubled and triumphant.
One of my favorite projects of the year, it allows us—via artists we work with and those we don't yet—to get political, and it allows us to showcase the diversity of the Walker worldview by featuring artists from different perspectives, disciplines, geographies, ability levels, genders, races, and sexual orientations.
R&B artist, St. Paul
Artist and filmmaker, New York/Somerville, MA
Artist, writer, activist, Berlin/Los Angeles
Lynn Hershman Leeson
Artist and filmmaker, San Francisco/New York
Graphic designer, New York
Graphic design studio, Brooklyn
Samuel Nyholm (aka SANY)
Illustrator and artist, Stockholm
Photographer, New York
Artist and educator, Los Angeles
Wendy Red Star
Artist, Portland, OR
Theater artist, New York
Dyani White Hawk
I'll be speaking at the College Art Association (CAA) conference in Los Angeles on February 23 as part of a panel on publishing and socially engaged art history.
Roundtable: Digital Publishing, Dissent, and Socially Engaged Art History
Friday, February 23, 2018, 4:00–5:30 PM
501C, Los Angeles Convention Center
Two currents of contemporary culture seem to be emerging simultaneously: digital publishing and an increasing understanding that the scholarly work of art history can and ought to be socially engaged. Digital publishing has been a democratizing force in the exchange of information and ideas, radically transforming authorship and readership in the twenty-first century. As information is circulated and seen by more and ever-changing populations, the call for socially engaged art and art history has never been greater. Scholars and artists have seized this opportunity in myriad ways, often subverting the traditional, hierarchical structures that have driven academe and the art market for the past two centuries. This panel brings together scholars, artists, and editors who actively pursue digital publishing as a means of scholarly, artistic, or pedagogical dissent: Gelare Khoshgozaran, an independent artist who disseminates socially critical performance and video art via digital means; Paul Schmelzer of the Walker Art Center, an institution that uses their online presence to engage new audiences and re-envision the museum-going experience; pedagogical innovators Virginia B. Spivey and Michelle Millar Fisher of Art History Pedagogy and Practice and Art History Teaching Resources, who have made didactic materials and criticism available online; and Allison McCann and Nicole F. Scalissi, former editors-in-chief of Contemporaneity, a digital journal with a commitment to dissent and a critical reassessment of the field, using a digital platform to expand the critical voice of scholars and artists.
Art History in Real Time
History will look back on this time—the era of Trump, of “alternative facts” and “fake news”; Muslim bans and transgender bathroom bills; “antifa,” and “alt-right,” populism on the left and the right, and contested borders of all kinds. And so will art history. This kind of cultural chaos is prompting many institutions and artists to reconsider their work and their relationships with their publics. In this talk, I aim to look at how institutions are using digital publishing to chronicle artistic response to these issues. The Walker’s Artist Op-Eds series, in which artists like Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Dread Scott, and Postcommodity respond through writing to urgent issues in the news (including the EU refugee crisis, the police killing of Michael Brown, and the year 2043, when whites are projected to become a minority in the US), is but one example of a museum creating a platform for artists to weigh in on not just aesthetic issues but the interface of their work and personal lives with issues in the headlines, around the world, and in their communities. How are other cultural institutions using digital technology to facilitate, document, and amplify artistic responses to seismic shifts in western culture? How can such projects shape or inform dialogue today, and how will they be instructive to artists, art historians, and the public in decades to come?
"Why is Jimmie Durham the artist—or, at least, one of very few artists—selected for a major touring retrospective? Why isn’t more art by Native Americans collected, contextualized, and presented by major institutions like the Walker, the Whitney, and MoMA? And why is there so little representation—both within the staffs of contemporary art institutions and in the critical art press that covers them—of Native American, First Nations, and indigenous peoples?"
The traveling exhibition Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World has reignited longstanding questions about the artist’s identification as Cherokee, sparking numerous critiques by Cherokee artists and curators and defenses by Native and non-native curators alike, from Ashley Holland and America Meredith to Paul Chaat Smith and Anne Ellegood, the Hammer Museum curator who organized the show. But while much has been written about the controversy itself, which is sure to intensify as the exhibition tours to New York and Saskatoon in coming months, it tends to eclipse a larger issue: the dearth of opportunities within the contemporary art field for Native American artists. Responding to this situation, I organized a Skype conversation with a range of Native artists and scholars. The discussion, co-organized with and moderated by Sicangu Lakota artist Dyani White Hawk, was published on Walker Reader today, October 12, 2017, as a text conversation plus audio interview. It features:
Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo Nation), an Associate Curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York.
Jeffrey Gibson (Mississippi Band of Choctaw), a New York–based mid-career multidisciplinary artist.
Luzene Hill (Eastern Band of Cherokee), a multimedia artist based in Atlanta, best known for conceptual installations addressing the issue of violence against women.
Candessa Tehee, PhD (Cherokee Nation), a Tahlequah-based artist based and ssistant professor of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies and coordinator of the Cherokee Language Program at Northeastern State University
The Walker Art Center played a pivotal role in helping realize one of Mel Chin's most important works of eco-art. In conjunction with a 1990 solo show of Chin's art at the Walker, the museum worked with the artist to create Revival Field, a phytoremediation experiment at a Superfund site near St. Paul. But aside from a short blog post I wrote about the project in 2006, Revival Field had no digital presence on the Walker website. With Chin's return to the Twin Cities this month to keynote Public Art St. Paul's 30th anniversary celebration, I set out to tell a story that we should've been told online long ago. I commissioned Peter Boswell, the former Walker curator who oversaw Chin's 1990 Viewpoints show and the Walker's lead on Revival Field, to recount the project's history and the tribulations in making it happen (it got caught up in the NEA funding battles during the early '90s Culture War), and to position the work within Chin's long and diverse career.
Revival Field was an early Chin project that was truly multidisciplinary, engaging experts in art, science, and agriculture, including Dr. Rufus Chaney, a senior research agronomist at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service, presaging later collaborative works, including other soil remediation artworks and Chin's more recent Fundred Dollar Bill Project. Writes Boswell:
Chaney told Chin that he had conducted lab research with certain plants but noted that the department lacked the funding to conduct field research to expand on the lab work. Working with Chaney, Chin developed the Revival Fieldidea as a means of using the framework of art to conduct the first field test of the process on a contaminated site. It represented an important step in the development of his art practice, in that it did not simply address social issues metaphorically or symbolically but instead sought to engage with them practically by bringing together people in different professions to collaborate toward a common goal.
Before Postcommodity showed at documenta 14 and the 2017 Venice Biennale and before they won the $75K Ford Foundation Art of Change fellowship, I invited the indigenous art collective to pen an Artist Op-Ed, the eleventh in the Walker's ongoing series. Their powerful and poetic contribution: a mix of poetry, linguistic education, and history meditating on 2043, the year the US Census predicts whites will become a minority in the United States. Following the essay's online release, we celebrated the publication of their op-ed pamphlet at a well-received March 10 artist talk, which I moderated.
Following the artist talk, Anishinaabe novelist Louise Erdrich, in the audience that night, agreed to write for Walker Reader about Postcommodity's documenta installation, which used the LRAD acoustic weaponry used on protesters at Standing Rock for more healing ends. In October 2017, the collective iterated upon their Walker op-ed in the pages of Art in America.
The project marks a Walker Art Center first: it's the first time a publishing project has led to acquisition and exhibition of an artist's work—a balloon from the collective's Repellent Fence (2015) project is on view in the 2017–2018 exhibition, I am you, you are too.
Special thanks to Todd Bockley of Bockley Gallery for his pivotal help with this project, and his long dedication to Native American artists, both in Minneapolis and across the continent.
Calling it an “amnesty-first approach,” Donald Trump announced on September 5, 2017 his plan to phase out DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, in six months time. How are artists, especially those with close ties to the border, receiving this news? In two articles, I aimed to find out. I commissioned 10 artists—including filmmaker Natalia Almada, musician Helado Negro, land art collective Postcommodity, artist Patrick Martinez and Pedro Reyes, photographer Star Montana, and others to share their reactions. Their powerful ranged from the visceral to the poetic, from Almada's unreleased footage of children on the border, shot in 2004, to Ken Gonzalez-Day, who portended, "Ending DACA will be Donald Trump’s Trail of Tears when he forces American children who lack documentation to a country they may not remember, and more importantly it breaks up families."
For a more local angle, I commissioned an essay from Emmanuel Mauleón, a former member of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), RISD graduate, and, currently, a UCLA law student. His eloquent contribution turned a lens on the publisher: in the face of actions like Trump's, he challenged art institutions, including the Walker, to do a better job serving as a place where—as Ralph Ellison put it—“the interests of art and democracy converge.”