Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Guy Ben-Ner at the MCA and beyond

stills from Guy Ben-Ner's video, "Stealing Beauty" (2007)
The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition Homebodies closes on October 13th, and with it a chance to see curator Naomi Beckwith’s multifaceted and thoroughly engaging look at the concept of “home” through the work of more than 30 artists from six continents. If you haven't seen it yet, go.

The show features some important early feminist works addressing domesticity (including Martha Rosler’s deadpan “Semiotics of the Kitchen” and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ “Washing/Tracks/Maintenance”), but given its thematic focus you'll find it surprisingly hard to find any work in Homebodies that references child-rearing. The void of parenthood exists even here, in part a reminder that while the tension between women’s domestic roles and art careers may have diffused some since the 1970s, it still impacts the kinds of work we make.

The two works in the show that do address parenting by the artists themselves are both by dads: a group of playful interactive installations by Alberto Aguilar (interviewed for Cultural ReProducers here), and Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner’s video, 'Stealing Beauty,' which I’d been wanting to see for a long time.

Guy Ben-Ner became a father while he was still an art student, an event that profoundly
still from House Hold (2001)
impacted his life and his art practice. In an unpublished interview with artist Boaz Arad, he said “I had to choose between being a bad father away from home a lot, and being a good father, staying at home and making concessions. To work at home is a type of compromise.”  His feelings about these compromises are clearly mixed, as evidenced by work like 'House Hold' (2001), in which Ben-Ner films himself trapped under a crib by his kids. Nonetheless his family has become an integral part of his work, their presence adding complexity and humor to his explorations of exile, property, and private versus public space.

In 'Stealing Beauty' (2007), currently on view as part of the Homebodies exhibition, the artist and his family take over the display rooms of an IKEA store as the stage set for their own awkward anarchist sitcom. Filmed with hidden cameras and without permission, the fictionalized family in Stealing Beauty argues issues of ownership, inheritance and authority around stylish dining room tables and living room couches with the price tags dangling and shoppers browsing around them. After a series of scenes in which Ben-Ner’s capitalist patriarch is challenged by his family, the son and daughter deliver an earnest manifesto, urging viewers to steal both public and private property.

It’s hard to imagine a similar project being undertaken with anyone but the artist’s own family. For one thing, how would you negotiate such a project with anyone else’s kids? The presence of children here adds charm and also an edge of discomfort. What do the children make of all this? How do they feel about participating in such a public spectacle? It's worth noting that a woman artist making similar work would probably be criticized for being a delinquent mother.

Ben-Ner is now divorced (a process also documented in his work) and has a third child with his current partner. His recent video 'Soundtrack,' which recently screened at Chicago’s Aspect Ratio, features his toddler gleefully responding to fire, broken dishware, and other domestic disasters created in tandem with the opening soundtrack of the film "the War of the Roses." The work also includes great performances by his older two kids, now both in their teens. They all seem to be having an awful lot of fun. In a complicated sort of way, Guy Ben-Ner’s work demonstrates that while there are plenty of risks and challenges, making art while parenting can be a satisfying and fruitful endeavor.

excerpts from Guy Ben-Ner's "Stealing Beauty"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cultural ReProducers Event Series

It's official -- Cultural ReProducers has been awarded a grant from the Propeller Fund to support a series of four exciting art events at art spaces throughout Chicago in 2014!

Raising children who value and engage with the arts is an act that fosters creative thinking, shapes public dialogue, and has long term impacts on culture as a whole. Despite this, both young children and parents are usually left out of the discourse of the art world because of how its institutions structure the possibility of participation.
Challenges include the hours of typical art openings and lectures, which typically fall during the hours that disrupt the evening dinner/bedtime ritual for many families, and often requires coordinating paid childcare. For those who choose to bring young children along, it can be challenging to truly converse or participate (kids are understandably fussy in a room full of loud adults and things they can't touch).

The Cultural ReProducers Event Series is a simple project that allows parents with small children participate more actively in the art community at large. We will host events at four different art venues throughout the city on Saturday mornings, during hours that make it possible for most families with small children to attend. 

We're working with each venue to program a compelling lecture, performance, or other event in conjunction with exhibitions on view.
Unlike the average art event, free on-site childcare will be provided  in a nearby room throughout the program, with creative activities linked to the event their parents are attending. There will be a limit of 18 children in the childcare area at each venue (you can pre-register to ensure your spot) but parents are also free to keep their kids with them. And of course non-parents are also welcome. Each event is followed by an informal all-ages reception with light refreshments, allowing for the possibility of dialogue, connection, and tasty snacks.

Our goal is twofold: to give parents and their kids the chance to participate as critical members of the arts community, and also to inspire cultural institutions to better serve artists and audiences, providing positive models for future programming.  

 If you have ideas about venues or events you'd like to see us partner with in the future, please be in touch! You can follow posts about upcoming and past events in the series HERE and if you're an institution working to make events more accessible to artist-parents, download the Cultural ReProducers Event Guidelines.