September 27th, 2018 09.27.2018

Letter from the Editor: Issue 07


Some myths are absorbed through tradition, and others are ascertained by feeling through how to describe the structures and subjects of our times. The tactic of mythology, as a form to describe broader experience, acts as a primer for many of the pieces included in Issue 07 of THE SEEN, whose newly commissioned texts explore narratives from ancient Greece and Arabia, to Indigenous histories both of the Americas and northern and eastern Europe, applied to contemporary artistic practices today.

On the cover of this edition is documentation of an ephemeral land work by Postcommodity— an interdisciplinary collective comprised of Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist, and until recently Raven Chacon—entitled Repellent Fence (2015), installed along the US-Mexico border. Floating one hundred feet above the desert landscape near between Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora, the tethered balloons are installed across two miles, featuring Indigenous medicine colors of yellow, red, white, black, and blue with iconography known as the ‘open eye.’ The graphic, an appropriated readymade from a product meant to deter birds, operates not as boundary, but instead a suture—a gesture that echoes the movement of the communities that once existed freely across the porous geography of the Americas. An expansive feature, by Hiba Ali, that draws together recent works and exhibitions by various artists and architects navigates the increased social and political complexities of borders within our twenty-first century index.

The framework of mythology extends to other specific works, such as Adrian Piper’s Mythic Being (1973) to address race and gender, as discussed within the context of the artist’s fifty-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; an interview with Candice Lin that traces the desire embedded within the material histories of cochineal and porcelain, whose recipes mystified and seduced Europeans for nearly two centuries; and artist Sable Elyse Smith’s inclusion in SITE Santa Fe, which explores the normalized brutality that seeps through the systems under which we live, interweaving subjective experience with institutional power structures. Other mythologies of race and colonization are imbibed and investigated through larger exhibitions, such as On Whiteness, born out of poet Claudia Rankine’s The Racial Imaginary Institute, to confront how hyper-visibility allows whiteness to become invisible and achieve a pervasive monopoly over cultural narratives; and We Don’t Need Another Hero: The 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, curated by Gabi Ngcobo, to reject the assumption that the role of the artist exists to educate the masses—against the notion that the ‘job’ of the colonized is to educate the colonizers—a tactic of oppression often utilized within institutions of contemporary art.

Other pieces more poetically challenge how allegory can ascribe new lore to an image—such as Naoki Sutter-Shudo’s series of vignettes on five representational paintings, entitled Tourism, In Passing, and Patrick Lanford Stephenson’s Screenplay for an Exhibition, which transforms Theaster Gates’ curatorial project on the architecture and archives of the Johnson Publishing Company at the Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank into a cinematic gesture. For the first time, two special edition inserts are included within this issue of THE SEEN—the first, a curated selection of rarely seen pairings of AfriCOBRA founding member Gerald Williams’ pointillism pieces, as well as an index of works by Chicago-based artist Mika Horibuchi, tracing the history of illusion and trompe l’oeil painting.

Among the other texts included within this largest issue to date, is a piece that questions the act of art criticism itself—written by Ruslana Lichtzier, Partial Aphasia: On Writing About Art is a treatise on how language and feeling are inextricably linked. While myth serves as a starting point to reading each of these works, it is by no means an ending.

Stephanie Cristello

An immense thank you to my Staff Writers, and their commitment to producing the most engaging and insightful pieces I have the pleasure of editing; Associate Editor, Gabrielle Welsh, for her work in assembling this edition; the assistance of Patrick Lanford Stephenson; and Ashley Ryann of the JNL Graphic Design for her dedication and artistic direction in designing this edition. As always, I remain grateful to the Publisher of THE SEEN, Tony Karman and EXPO CHICAGO, for allowing us to continue our support of contemporary art theory and criticism, and to Newcity Custom Publishing for managing production and distribution.