Review: Greg Martens’s Out From the Darkness at Grove Gallery

Greg Martens holds a very special place in my heart.

He was a traveling salesman who dropped out of college and married the love of his life with whom he raised three children, eventually becoming a cobbler out in Wauwatosa, WI – where his whole family helped fix shoes in their busy little shop. At the age of 46, Martens was diagnosed with very aggressive bone marrow cancer, and given two years to live. He shut down his store, proclaimed the love his family certainly already felt, said his goodbyes, and prepared for what he was told would surely come. At the 11th hour, he was offered an extremely experimental surgery that “may or may not work,” and figured, “It can’t get any worse.” After several surgeries, transplants, being in and out of the hospital all the time, financial ruin to the point of bankruptcy, and foreclosure… Greg went into remission. He was given, he has told me many times, a new lease on life. Literally.

And then? He went back to school to study visual art.

ink on paper self-portrait by Greg Martens

This is when I met Gregory Martens: as a non-traditional, working class, undergraduate printmaker in his fifties, happy, and making, and chatting almost all the time – dedicated to telling the stories of machinists, cobblers, and his blue collar peers, all performing their livelihood, and finding their place in the New American System. I watched and participated as he finished that degree, and then a Masters, exploring everything from celebratory woodcut portraits of his fellow Milwaukutians (I am told that this is not a word, but I am going to use it because I like it better than Milwaukeean) to photography and storytelling around his own journey with illness. He now teaches printmaking part-time in the Peck School of Arts at UW-Milwaukee, and works in his own Hip Joint Press studio.

“Out From the Darkness,” Greg’s solo exhibition, recently premiered at Grove Gallery – run by current UWM grad student and entrepreneur, Adam Beadel of Team Nerd Press. According to the artist, the “darkness” he is coming out of (and I’ll admit I have some mixed feelings about this) “refers to letting go of the influences and pressures of academic training” (ha!), as he is “just trying to channel the teenaged kid back in the 1970’s who loved drawing for endless hours while listening to rock and roll on the 8-track.”

update! The artist emailed me, re:above

Regarding the theme of my show, “Out from the darkness” using “darkness” to describe academic training and influence does seem a bit counter-intuitive, but ever since I entered the art world as a maker, the brass ring has been the New York market, Art Basel, and Documenta. Global, intellectual, heady ideas shaped into visual brilliance. Work worthy of the attention of Artforum, Art in America, and Hal Foster. Work that demonstrates a fully realized appreciation, mastery, and relevant commentary of art history, art theory, and art criticism. But aspiring (and failing) to reach these heights left me in a dark place. The heart of it all for me is drawing, and upon reflection, my purest experience drawing was as a long-haired “freak” in high school in the mid 1970’s. So, I have tried to recreate that experience in my studio and the results are the work in this exhibition. No strategy, no expectations, no pressure.

In Distractions, above, we see the artist on an accordion, behind a drum set and guitar, a baby (his grandkid?), monsters, and skeletons, and more. He is in front of a library, and beside a poster for a production (his studio, maybe?)… but that studio is on the move, transporting good(s) via truck. Honestly, his distractions and work both sound a lot more fun than my own bureaucratic, academic emailing and paperwork; heck, I’m having more fun writing about his distractions, and I suppose blogging is one of mine.

As is his usual, odd and graphic style, there is a combination of homage and darkness in all the drawings, paintings, prints, and sketchbooks-as-anthologies on show, which depict, he says, “demons, comics, snakes, skeletons, monsters, crying babies, bad boys, and cool cars,” with a sense of often political humor.

Sadly, I only made it out to Martens’ exhibition today, the last day – and there was some confusion about gallery hours… so the above shot is the utterly glorious window, and I was able to view only this and what I could see beyond, as well as what is on the two sites linked to above. But it, along with what I already know, is enough to recommend curators and galleries consider his work, and artists and art appreciators visit his site, or any other upcoming exhibitions (he’s also got a few pieces on permanent view on the ground floor of the Engineering building at UWM – where I helped to arrange some purchases!). And… definitely speak with him (or Adam about his gallery and print shop!) if you get the chance. Greg is an inspirational person and artist!

Sketching: The World After Us, speculative media sculptures

This blog post is a sketch – something I will occasionally do about my own work, or with others. It will always be a thinking-with of new materials and ideas, with this one coming out of the writing of my forthcoming second book (Ecological Aesthetics: artful tactics for humans, nature, and politics), chats with colleagues and peers and specialists, playing with media objects, proposing a fellowship (I didn’t get), and more. I welcome feedback! I imagine this particular proposal being a years- and perhaps decades-long project, with this first exhibition being produced over the next two or so years… The images are very recent experiments!

THE WORLD AFTER: US SPECULATIVE MEDIA SCULPTURE

What will Digital Media do, after us?

Galaxy (yes, the phone)

The World After Us will be a new series of media sculptures that materially speculate on what our devices – phones and tablets, batteries and displays, etc – might become, over thousands or millions of years. Through research, experimentation, and craft, I will try (and likely fail) to turn phones into crude oil, coal, or other fossil fuels – and put the results on exhibit, in beakers and tubes. I will attempt to mimic geological time, as pressure and heat – through chemical interactions or specialized machinery – on laptops and tablets, then display where that potential lies, as petrified-like LCDs or mangled post-exploded batteries, on pedestals in a gallery. I hope to turn “dead media” computers into efficient planters for edible goods, food for mold, or seeds of their own growth – and show both those experiments, and their results, as videos and sculptural forms. I will also turn ground phones into usable supplies, for example ink and paper, and put them to use in these new forms. The final outcome will be an internationally exhibited body of work, and catalog. It is impossible for humans to truly fathom our planet on an Earth scale, or conversely from the perspective of bacteria. But we can feel such things, through art and storytelling – making our aesthetic encounters both conceptually and ethically vital toward new futures. At stake, whether in our everyday interactions or on a larger scale, are the (digital) relationships between humans and the natural world on the one hand, between politics and commerce on the other.

The World After Us will be a traveling exhibition and catalog, beginning in Milwaukee, and shown in several other spaces internationally. It asks:

What will digital media be and do, after us?
What will my laptop, or phone, look like in a million years?
How will our devices weather over time?
Can we artificially weather our devices, to sense and feel this?

Torch phone (yes, literally)

These are not rhetorical questions. But they are more speculative than they are able to be answered directly and correctly. And with this research project, I will speculate and experiment, wonder and wander, with our materials. I will (safely) mix phones in blenders, press laptops under steamrollers, break down tablets with borax. I will soak iPads in chlorine and sludge, cook iPhones like cakes, inject the Apple Watch with spores and mold. Torch, grind, freeze, flower. Highlight, amplify, ironize, intervene. Resiutate, speculate, wonder, and propose.

Can we use biofuel processes or hydrothermal liquefaction to turn a phone into fuel?
How might a laptop make the most efficient planter, or bed for life?
What would a tablet made of carbon, instead of plastic, be and do?
What does a joule feel like?

Geological time and Earth size, decomposition and regrowth: these are concepts we can comprehend rationally, but they are impossible to truly fathom. I propose that we can feel such things, aesthetically and thus ethically, if we substantiate future potential, artfully, in objects and installations. My experimental project will do precisely this. It will take the form of between eight and 15 objects or installations that might be: beakers of coal- or oil-like matter labelled with the device they once were (ie iPhone 7); laptops growing spores and mold, propagating life in new and different ways; participatory machines that take our energy and convert it into media; new designs for carbon-based phones, which will more easily decompose over time; prints made entirely of media devices: image, ink, paper, etc… These objects will be accompanied by the stories and experiments that produced them (text, image, video), as well as an essay which mediates the research as a whole.

Some relevant reading (not including my not-yet-released book!):

Help Jessica and me make art!

13 Views of a Journey

Hi Everyone:

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and I are trying to raise money for our next collaborative solo exhibition at GALLERY AOP in Johannesburg, South Africa, in January 2013, through crowd-funding site US Artists. Some of this work will also be shown in Milwaukee as part of SGCI next March. Please consider donating even the smallest amount to help us cover costs of materials and catalog printing (with an essay by renowned media theorist Richard Grusin)! Every little bit helps, it’s tax deductible, and donations at various levels will get limited edition art works to boot. Contributions can be made through Amazon payments. We’ve made a video explaining the work and what your money will go towards online with the campaign at: http://www.usaprojects.org/project/matter_mediate_material

Note: If your credit card is issued from a non-US bank, or you prefer not to use Amazon payments, please consider either making a donation through GALLERY AOP via Alet Vorster in South Africa <info@artonpaper.co.za>, or by printing and mailing or faxing this donation form.

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The Exhibition

In our ongoing series of collaborations, a traditional printmaker (Jessica Meuninck-Ganger) and digital artist (Nathaniel Stern) merge practices to create new forms. Matter Mediate Material is an upcoming solo exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa (January 2013), where we will permanently mount translucent prints and drawings directly on top of video screens, to make “moving images on paper.” Several of these exciting new works will also be shown as part of Southern Graphics Conference International (March 2013, Milwaukee).

We really appreciate your patronage and support. Matter Mediate Material will combine hand craftsmanship with high tech, and so requires LCD screens and media players, hours of shooting, animating and drawing, paper, ink, silk screens, wood, copper plates, frames, glass, and so much more. Your funding will assist with materials and production for the new work, as well as catalog printing. Remember that we must reach our minimum goal to get funding (it’s all or nothing!), but any moneys over and above that goal will help further: towards shipping costs, framing, travel, design, PR and public programming. Every bit helps – so please donate, and tell your friends, too. Thank you for your help!

Thanks in advance for your support! Best,

nathaniel and jessica

Distill Life: undertoe

Perks

$30
Bi-weekly updates, and a small, signed, letterpress print

$60
Bi-weekly updates, a signed letterpress print, and a signed catalog

$175
Updates, signed letterpress print and catalog, and a signed silk screen print

$400
Everything above, and a very limited edition signed digital print

$1,300
Everything above and a signed, very limited edition, 2-layer digital and traditional print

$2,400
Everything above and a signed, limited edition print+video piece -this includes a video screen + media player to make “moving images on paper”

Printing Time: Nathaniel Stern in New Zealand

concentration (2011), 24 x 42 cm, pigment on watercolor paper, edition 5

Printing Time
Kerikeri, New Zealand
Nathaniel Stern at Art at Wharepuke
190 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri
Bay of Islands, Northland 0230 New Zealand
18th November – 8th December 2011
+64 9 407 8933 or info@art-at-wharepuke.co.nz
Printing Time is a suite of 18 performative prints, each an edition of 5. It was produced for a solo exhibition of the same name at Art at Wharepuke in New Zealand, run by Mark Graver – author of Non-toxic Printmaking. In this ongoing series, I strap a desktop scanner, laptop and custom-made battery pack to my body, and perform images into existence. I might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around my neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. The dynamism of my relationship to the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are re-stretched and colored on my laptop, then produced as archival art objects. This series follows the trajectory of Impressionist painting, through Surrealism to Postmodernism, but rather than citing crises of representation, reality or simulation, my focus is on performing all three in relation to each other.

Nathaniel Stern in Milwaukee, Vancouver and Pretoria

13 views of a Journey (detail), 2011, video and print installation, 6 x 8 feet

Current Tendencies II: Artists from Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

10 Milwaukee artists at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University
13th and Clybourn, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
August 24 – December 31, 2011
Opening reception, August 31, 6PM

Concert at Church of the Gesu with John Weissrock, September 14, 6PM
Panel Discussion with Meuninck-Ganger, Stern and others, October 6, 6PM
Lecture by Reginald Baylor and Mark Brautigam, November 9, 6PM

Current Tendencies II features 10 Milwaukee artists working in a variety of media, including photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, video and sculpture.  The exhibition presents many never-before-seen works, commissioned specifically for the Haggerty Museum.  Each artist was paired with a Marquette professor who wrote a reflection of the artist’s work based on the professor’s area of expertise, creating dialogue between artist and scholar and connecting philosophy, theology, political science, communications, etc., to the works in the exhibition.

The exhibition premieres 13 Views of a Journey (6 x 8 feet, see above detail), a new Distill Life installation by Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern. Here the artists mount large-scale and translucent prints to plexiglass and rear project video through them, creating “moving images on paper.” The 13 animated vignettes are played in random order behind fibrous and inky paper, making a dynamic and room-sized book art project. Says Philosophy Professor Melissa Shew, “This work is not about the artists, past and present; it is not about correctness in terms of history or technique; it is not about influence and deference…. this work concerns what is possible through collaboration, through layering and uncovering, film and print.”

Jessica and Nathaniel will also be part of a panel discussion at the museum on October 6 at 6 PM, with Will Pergl, Dr. Melissa Shew and Dr. Bonnie Brennen. Other artists featured in Current Tendencies II include Reginald Baylor, Mark Brautigam, Julian Correa, Lisa Hecht, Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Luc Leplae, Will Pergl, and Jordan Waraksa. Catalogs are available at the museum, or as a PDF download.

Wikipedia Art logoNew Forms Festival: Public Domain
Vancouver, Canada

Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall, among others
Waldorf Hotel, Vancouver
1489 East Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 1S4, Canada
September 9-11, 2011

New Forms Festival 2011 delves into the theme of “Public Domain”, focusing on concepts of copyright art, public interactivity, media façades and relationships between public and private spaces. Utilizing the entire hotel premises, the festival will act as a creative hub, a laboratory for exploration and discovery. Throughout the festival, performances, video projects, workshops and installations will take place in the hotel rooms, various bars, spaces, hallways, outer walls and the back parking lot, including artists such as Antoine Schmitt, Negativland, Patrick Cruz, ARO, Lief Hall and Hart Snider.

Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern famously used Wikipedia as an artistic platform, creating a collaborative project that explores and challenges our understanding of how knowledge is formed and disseminated. For over a year they planned the initiation of Wikipedia Art, a socially generated artwork that exploits a feedback loop in Wikipedia’s citation mechanism. Here, a “word war” across blogs, interviews and the mainstream press, which involved Wikipedians, artists, journalists, lawyers and even the Wikimedia Foundation itself, continuously defined and transformed a work of art in much the same way that these categories define the discourses of the everyday. Their Wikipedia Art hotel room for the New Forms Festival plays with the kinds of parodoxical publicity needed to begin and sustain a Wikipedia page, and charts the inception, birth, life, death and resurrection of their work. It questions the authoritative role of Wikipedia, and reveals its fallibility whilst debating the control of, access to, and creation of, knowledge.

staticTranscode
Pretoria, South Africa

UNISA Gallery
University of South Africa
Kgorong Building, Ground floor
Preller & Ridge Street
Muckleneuk Ridge, Pretoria
September 7 – 30, 2011
Opening reception: September 7

Transcode: Dialogues Around Intermedia Practice, curated by Gwen Miller at the new UNISA (University of South Africa) Gallery, explores the space between digital and traditional work for contemporary, South African artist-researchers. It premieres new work by many artists, including Lawrence Lemaoana, Celia de Villiers, Frikkie Eksteen, Marcus Neustetter, Carolyn Parton, Churchill Madikida, Colleen Alborough, Minette Vári and Fabian Wargau, among others.

Nathaniel Stern’s new piece, static, is an enclosed installation of six looped films, where each is edited down through “thresholding” the audio: any time the volume goes above a set and very low amplitude, that section is completely removed, and the film jump cuts to the next (nearly) silent sequence. These are in a tight corridor with three body-sized and wall-to-wall projections on either side, spatially putting viewers “in quotes” as they inadvertently cast shadows into the stories around them. High-volume loudspeakers accompany each projection, creating a hum out of the minor background noise left behind in all six Best Picture-winning films: Apocalypse Now, Casablanca, Silence of the Lambs, On The Waterfront, The Godfather II and Midnight Cowboy. What we see or experience is reliant not only on the work’s rich-but-noiseless stasis and over-determined visual action, but also our familiarity with each film or filmic genre. The clips’ varied lengths, styles and narratives, all seen together, accent our collective, social relationships to archetypal stories and characters at large.

Also on exhibition is Stern’s well known interactive piece, stuttering, and several works from his Compressionism and Distill Life series (the latter with collaborator Jessica Meuninck-Ganger).

Out of the Suitcase
At Sea (detail)Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger are also part of Out of the Suitcase: Works by Recent Recipients of the Mary L. Nohl Suitcase Awards, with their collaborative and solo print work. The exhibition is curated by Mark Lawson and Bruce Knackert in the Frederick Layton Gallery at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, on view now through October 8, and with an opening reception Thursday, September 8, at 6PM.

Other participating artists include: Nicole Brown, Matt Cipov, Michael Davidson, Chris Davis Benavides, Santiago Cucullu, Nicholas Grider, Karen Gunderman, Nicolas Lampert, Angela Laughingheart, Faythe Levine, Shana McCaw and Brent Budsberg, Kimberly Miller, Will Pergl, John Ruebartsch, Val Schleicher, Sonja Thomsen, Christopher Willey and James Zwadlo.

Giverny of the Midwest: Nathaniel Stern @ GALLERY AOP in Johannesburg, South Africa

Giverny of the Midwest (detail), 2011, 2 x 12 meters
Nathaniel Stern scanning lilies in South Bend, IndianaGiverny of the Midwest

Johannesburg, South Africa
Nathaniel Stern at GALLERY AOP

44 Stanley Avenue
Braamfontein Werf (Milpark), Johannesburg
Saturday 30 July – Saturday 13 August 2011
Opening talk by Jeremy Wafer, 30 July 14h00
Artist talks, 4 – 5 August, Joburg and Pretoria
Artist walkabout at AOP, 4 August 18h00

For Nathaniel Stern’s ongoing series of performative prints, he straps a desktop scanner, laptop and custom-made battery pack to his body, and performs images into existence. He might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around his neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. The dynamism between his body, technology and the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival art objects.

Giverny of the Midwest is a panoramic installation of nearly 100 such prints, rendering water, lilies, leaves and other organic forms into lush and rippling images. The source materials were scanned during a week-long camping trip next to a lily pond in South Bend, Indiana, and edited together over the course of nearly 2 years. The piece explicitly cites Monet’s large-scale painting and installation, Water Lilies (1914-1926), at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is similarly an immersive triptych of over 250 square feet (totaling 2 x 12 meters), and follows the patterns of light and color in Monet’s panorama. But Giverny of the Midwest’s three large panels move between proximity and distance, and are broken down into differently-sized and -shaped prints on watercolor paper, each evenly spaced apart. The tensions between flow and geometry, life and modularity, place it in further dialogue with other trajectories of modern and contemporary art, and simultaneously activate the possibilities of working across digital and traditional forms.

Giverny of the Midwest (detail), middle wall, 30 prints @ 2 x 4 meters

Giverny of the Midwest (detail, 2 x 4 meters; total size 2 x 12 meters)

Also part of the exhibition: The Giverny Series, 8 individual prints (edition 10, 2011) and In the fold, an artist book (forthcoming) – both produced using imagery from the aforementioned “art camping trip” in South Bend, Indiana.

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Artist presentations

At both artist talks, Nathaniel will talk about his trajectory of thinking and making, which centers around curiosity, generosity and dialogue. He’ll present his work as a series of questions that often lead to interdisciplinarity and collaboration, and the combination of new and traditional media. The walkabout will see an open discussion about Giverny of the Midwest more specifically – the prints, the process, and the in-betweens.

Artist talk: Thursday 4 August, 12h30
Digital Convent, University of the Witwatersrand, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Co-hosted by Wits Digital Arts and the Division of Visual Arts
details: tegan.bristow@wits.ac.za

Artist walkabout: Thursday 4 August, 18h00
GALLERY AOP
44 Stanley Avenue, Braamfontein Werf (Milpark), Johannesburg
details: info@artonpaper.co.za

Artist talk: Friday 5 August, 9h00
Sunnyside Campus, University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria
Hosted by the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology
details: colleen.alborough@gmail.com

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GALLERY AOP details

Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday 10h00-17h00, Saturday 10h00-15h00