This is Etta’s reflection on our visit to ACRE a few weeks ago. Check out Lynnette’s post from last week here.
I first got involved with ACRE a few years ago when I was living at the Plaines Project, an alternative venue and exhibition space in Pilsen, Chicago. One awesome aspect of the ACRE residency program is that each resident who attends is offered an exhibition opportunity within a year and a half after attending the residency. In addition to their own ACRE Projects gallery space in Pilsen, ACRE has partnerships with a variety of different types of galleries around Chicago and beyond. At the time that I moved in, the Plaines Project was a partner gallery with ACRE, hosting exhibitions for four residents per year.
When I left the Plaines Project, ACRE asked if I’d like to be a member of the Curatorial Board–a group of organizers and curators in Chicago who put together the exhibitions at ACRE Projects. I was excited about the opportunity to continue working with ACRE and the possibility for a partnership between ACRE and Make Space.
Besides getting to meet and work with some pretty cool artists, one of the perks of working with ACRE is that we’re invited to visit the residency each summer. This is a great opportunity to meet the residents and get to talk to them about their work. We have found this to be extremely rewarding and beneficial to the curatorial process for working with ACRE. As curators, we get access to each artists’ website and applications but to be able to meet in person with the artists, see what they’re working on, and talk to them about their ideas and practices gives us a greater insight and feel for the artists than just looking at a screen. We see curating more like collaborating and it’s always been important to us to form a connection, if not a friendship, with the artists we work with. By just meeting and talking with the residents at ACRE, we are able to begin forming these connections in a fluid and organic way, talking to people we otherwise may have never had the opportunity to meet and work with.
Lynnette and I headed out for Wisconsin after I got done with work on Friday, August 8. I had been working a strenuous teaching job for the past few weeks and I couldn’t wait to get out of the city and visit ACRE. I needed a break. I knew that meeting with the residents and other visiting artists would be tiring in its own way, but just the thought of being in the beautiful landscape of ACRE seemed like a relief – and I was excited to meet this session’s residents!
Traffic slowed our drive a little bit, making me even more anxious to get there, but we finally arrived. We stopped in at the lodge and then went to the visiting artist’s house to settle in before dinner. Dinner that night was a dream come true: Pozole. I was a resident at ACRE this year during first session, about three weeks prior to our visit, and I had been craving this Mexican soup ever since I’d had it then.
Dinner announcements and introductions were long that night. ACRE was just about at full capacity with two visiting bands, Earring and The Hecks that were playing later, visiting artists like Sara Black and Fern Silva, and another member of the Curatorial Board, Raven Munsell. The air got cool after dinner and there was just enough time to stop back at the visiting artist house for some extra layers before the bands played on the stage to the side of the kitchen, looking out at a moonlit sky over a large oat field and the little rolling mountains beyond. Visitors to ACRE quickly become integrated into the flow of things. Throughout dinner and afterwards, we met some of the residents and caught up with artists and staff we already knew. There was a bonfire that night and it seemed like almost all the residents were sticking around to chat on the benches around the fire until some of us were drawn away by the sound of dance music at the stage. We danced to Robyn and Iggy Azelia until the music started to die off and we decided to head back to sleep, anticipating a long day of studio visits ahead of us on Saturday.
Our studio visits were supposed to begin at 10 but I woke up extra early to go on a hike. ACRE is in the “Driftless Area” of southwestern Wisconsin – so-called because glaciers did not move through the region during the last glacial period. The landscape around ACRE bumps and rolls with tree-covered mountains and valleys, intercut with cold spring-fed streams and small rivers. I walked down the road along the river, taking the fork away from the ACRE lodge to where I knew there would be a grassy turn off towards the field that would lead me to a trail up one of the mountains. The trail got pretty steep and it was a bit of a tough climb for so early in the morning, but I was rewarded at the top when the trees opened onto a sunlit meadow full of wildflowers. I made my way through the plants, some growing as tall as I am, as far as I could, then turned back down the mountain to shower and get breakfast before meeting with artists.
Because there were so many visitors as well as extra programming that morning, our studio visit sign-up sheet wasn’t quite full. This gave us time to enjoy our bagels before meeting with Joe Yorty on the front porch. We looked at images of his past work, discussed some ideas for projects utilizing some of the objects around ACRE, and he shared some video experimentations he’d been working on since arriving at the residency.
After the visit, we didn’t have anyone signed up until after lunch but our afternoon and Sunday time slots were filling up. I knew it was now or never: tubing. On the edge of the ACRE property, there is a small cabin next to the Kickapoo river. In addition to visiting artists and bands, the cabin houses a pile of fluorescent tubes and floaties. The float from the River Cabin is about a twenty minute lazy drift through a valley of green pastures and mountains, ending in “downtown” Steuben, Wisconsin. Tubing is one of my favorite things to do at ACRE and it was a perfectly sunny and warm day. While Lynnette stayed at the lodge, I got into my bathing suit and caught up with the visiting bands and some off-duty kitchen staff just before they got in the water. We caravanned down the river with one shared can of a La Croix and a useless fishing pole, then walked back along the road and hung out in the sun before the bands drove off to Minneapolis and it was time for lunch.
After lunch, we had a bit of time to waste before our next studio visit with Marisa Willamson so Lynnette and I wandered through the field to the old grain silo next to the recording studio. We played around, listening to our echoes in the reverberating space as we jumped, stomped, hummed, and banged on the architecture of the structure.
We met with Marisa in her studio space on the porch that wraps around the perimeter of the lodge. She showed us some videos from her past work and performed a portion of a piece in which she dialogues with a video montage of Monica Lewinsky in a spa about feminism, power, and sexual choice. We discussed accessibility of art as well as our own daily experiences and struggles with the cultural and feminist ideas raised in her work.
Next, we headed to chalet studio areas to meet with Ann Gaziano who showed us some of her materials and shared a book of pattern inspirations. We were all in need of a snack so we headed to the kitchen to heat up some food from the left-overs fridge and look at some of her pattern-based work. She showed us the piles of brightly colored materials she was playing around with, including some giant springs, rainbow-toned fabric, and glow-in-the-dark paracord.
Our final visit of the afternoon was our first duo-visit. While residents usually do one-on-one meetings with visiting artists, we hoped to spark more of a dialogue and increase the number of artists we were able to meet with by encouraging two residents to sign up for the same time slot. During our conversation with Sarah Hotchkiss and Sam Hertz, we were able to discover connections between all of our practices (remember, Lynnette and I are artists too) even though we’re all coming from different background and working in different mediums. It was exciting and informative and we were all jotting down notes about book and exhibition recommendations, Bay Area sci-fi meet-ups, coding, and grid references throughout the visit.
Dinner that night was lasagna and it was much quieter than the night before because many of the residents and staff had gone to a nearby county fair to see the Demolition Derby. After dinner, there was a video screening of work by Fern Silva and a newly arrived visitor from Milwaukee, Steve Wetzel. After a long day of eating, tubing, and talking with artists, though, I was exhausted and couldn’t quite make it through the screenings. I spent some time staring at the almost full super moon and trying to take a nap in a chair on the porch of the print studio before Lynnette and I agreed it was time to sleep.
On our final morning at ACRE, we met with Boyang Hou in the chalet. While at ACRE, he’d been making layered screen-print paintings of the ACRE map, adding arrows and lines reminiscent of strategic play diagrams in sports. We talked about the idea of play and the how the “field of play” manifests itself both literally and metaphorically in a place like ACRE. He showed us images of some of his other work that merges iconographic sports imagery and symbolism with contemporary painting concepts and told us about some exciting new projects he was looking forward to upon his return to Chicago.
Our final visit was with Victoria Martinez and Stella Brown. We didn’t have to travel far since Victoria’s work space was right next to Boyang’s in the chalet. Lynnette and I both know Victoria from Chicago and were already familiar with her work but it was exciting to see her in this new context and discuss how her work, which is often very site-specific, was translating into these new spaces. Because of our familiarity, I think Lynnette and I were able to be a little bit more direct with Victoria, asking her questions based on our past experiences with her work and encouraging her to push herself in new directions. Neither of us knew Stella before our visit but she and Victoria were roommates during their session and we’d been chatting with her all weekend. She showed us images of her work and told us about the investigations she was doing into the history of the surrounding landscape. I think (I hope!) both artists left the visit feeling invigorated with what they were working on and with some exciting new ideas.
In the last couple hours before leaving ACRE, I met up with Tony Balko for some help on a video project for the class I was teaching back in Chicago. Tony was working in the A/V studio when I was a resident earlier that summer and was generous enough during our visit to take some time to help me out. I’m constantly blown away by the expertise of the staff at ACRE, who spend their summers there as volunteers to assist residents and give workshops in the various studios including a wood shop, screen print studio, recording studio, A/V studio, and new fiber studio. The staff are not only deeply knowledgeable about what they do but passionate as well. Bringing these talented artists together, not to mention all the residents, is pretty powerful.
Our visit was a whirlwind of meeting new people, talking about art/life/etc, drinking, dancing, and hanging out. I can’t say that I was any more relaxed at the weekend’s end than when working my day job but I don’t know if relaxation is ever really the point at ACRE anyway. We packed as much as we could into the time that we had and it was certainly over too soon. We are thankful to the amazing staff at ACRE for hosting us for the weekend and we are looking forward to what is to come from the 2015 series of resident exhibitions.