3.03.2014

The Life of a Shut-In

"J. Lindemann: The Life of a Shut-In" from the Certificates of Presence
exhibition at Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, January 18-March 8, 2014

Living as a recluse seemed intriguing as depicted in Kenneth Anger's Puce Moment (below) or Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. Yet it was only through forced isolation that J. Lindemann (I) fully inhabited the hermit-lifestyle after nearly 30 years of making photographs about people and their spaces. The news of my diagnosis just days before the opening of our Decay Utopia Decay exhibition in November 2012 at Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee changed everything. For the first time we missed our own exhibition and a public appearance with Mike Perry whose book covers our photographs often graced. The cold air of winter had stung and viruses threatened. Seeking refuge in our Queen Anne house near the Lawrence University campus, our new iPhone camera became a tool to capture shafts of light, flowers, weather conditions outside the windows, examination rooms, and treatment modalities. Meanwhile, J. Shimon waited in clinic waiting rooms drawing scenes of rural utopia, art, grief, and my shut-in world. Contemplating the humor in the horrifying and the poetry in the mundane through making pictures provided an urgent and necessary distraction. Instagram had recently emerged and seemed a fitting venue for a post-diagnosis reality while enabling communication with the outside world (if only through likes and comments). Treatment raged on throughout the winter until the oncologist said the words "complete remission" and the crocuses bloomed. Thousands of digital images accumulated by the time Deb Brehmer suggested showing the series with Vivian Maier's Rolleiflex photographs and Livija Patikne's Kodachromes. Using populist display methods like digital photo frames, print-on-demand photo books, and small scale inkjet prints, "The Life of a Shut-in" series became a gallery experiment in the public expression of experience privately observed.  The works of Maier and Patikne combined with my digital images to examine how the camera could "define and defy a sense of isolation" while meditating on Roland Barthes Camera Lucida and his statement that photographs "make a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional effigy" and the ultimate relationship of the photograph to time and inevitable death and that-has-been.
Every photograph is a certificate of presence...like the ectoplasm of "what-had-been"...a reality one can no longer touch - Roland Barthes




Read "Certificates of Presence" statement
by Debra Brehmer of Portrait Society Gallery

Read "Gallery Event Captures Social Isolation..." 
by Mary Louise Schumacher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1.16, 2014

Read "The Secret Life of an Artist" review
by Kat Murrell, Third Coast Daily 2.7.2014

View "The Life of a Shut-In" 129 image slideshow on Flickr

12.25.2013

Aluminum Christmas Trees Again and Again

1959 Prototype Evergleam® packaging design
(from our collection) displayed in vitrine at
Wisconsin Historical Museum
"'Tis the Season" exhibition, December 2013
Little Evergleam's in vitrine with a few of our 
Season's Gleamings photographs in the background at
Wisconsin Historical Museum
"'Tis the Season" exhibition, December 2013
It's been nearly 10 years since our book Season's Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree (Melcher, NY, 2004) hit the streets. Our research into the history of the aluminum Christmas tree's manufacture in Manitowoc, Wisconsin culminated in that book. The trees were cheap and abundant at estate and rummage sales, thrift shops, and antiques stores 20 years ago. Folks in town generally thought they were hideous except for one man--Richard Thomsen. Our downtown gallery/storefront installation attracted media attention and helped Richard Thomsen find us. He loved the trees and knew their history. We gathered enough information to cobble together a history for Al Hoff's Thrift Score zine in 1997 and Metropolis magazine in 1998 with the mystic help of David Brown and Paul Lukas. For us, the trees transcended their status as holiday decor items instead working as a brilliant exercise in design making for a sublime viewing experience when displayed unadored en masse. Media interest escalated with each passing year peaking with the release of our book in 2004 and the national press coverage it generated from The New York Times to CBS Sunday Morning. When Joe Kapler, Curator of Domestic Life at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, expressed interest in the trees a few years ago, we enthusiastically handed him the mantle of aluminum tree historian. We even donated a prime prototype specimen (pictured above) from our collection. We watch with fascination as Joe enshrined the Manitowoc-made Evergleam in the official history of Wisconsin through various exhibitions. He recently assembled an exhibition titled 'Tis the Season (on view November 26, 2013-January 11, 2014) at the Wisconsin Hisorical Museum on the Square in Madison. Here's a sampling of the media documentation of the show posted in December 2013:

"Evergleam Trees on Display" by Mark Koehn and Susan Simon for WISC TV
"Aluminum Trees Back in Spotlight" video by Carrie Antlfinger for AP
"Wisconsin Museum Highlights Aluminum Trees" video by Rob Duns for WAOW TV
"Remember Aluminum Trees?" by Susan Bence for WUWM radio
"Wisconsin's Aluminum Christmas Tree Legacy" by Cathy Wurzer for WMPR radio 
by Meg Jones for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
by Lindsay Christian for The Cap Times


12.06.2013

We Gotta Get Out of This Place?


"J. Shimon & J. Lindemann: We Go From Where We Know"
 "Nash Corn Crib" and "Concrete Tear Drops" surrounded by portraits and postcards
at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
October 13, 2013-February 23, 2014.
Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center


In early December 2013, our projects (in various forms) were on view at six Wisconsin museums (e.g. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Wisconsin Art, Racine Art Museum, Rahr-West Art Museum, and the Wisconsin Historical Museum). Can this work examining the idiosyncrasies of human existence in a specific place (Wisconsin) open dialogs and exchanges with other under represented places or are they destined to stay here? Portrait Society Gallery (MKE) brought our "Decay Utopia Decay" series to Art Basel Miami Beach to the Aqua satellite fair where its rurality was surrounded by the glamor and clamor of the international art world. Gallerist Debra Brehmer commented on the importance of bringing works with a seemingly finite audience in Milwaukee into the art fair arena with a diverse and international audience. Having worked for 30 years to produce a record of our time, we have managed to make our projects accessible at these various venues simultaneously this month. Our past anti-isolation tactics have included meeting with art people from New York to New Orleans to Los Angeles, mailing info and postcards describing our activities, exhibiting, and maintaining a website. Curators, writers, and artists have landed on our studio door step in Manitowoc and in time we ended up on national network television and in the Paris edition of the New York Times.
 
"Local" has gained cultural currency when it comes to food. T-shirt slogans remind us to shop the farmers market and support small businesses. Much like the philosophies espoused by Grant Wood and his artistic comrades in the 1930s, the local food movement looks to nearby sources for sustenance and inspiration. In the case of "Regionalist" artists (Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry et. al.), this meant focusing on the subject matter found in everyday life in the small towns and rural areas of America's heartland. We grew up in rural Wisconsin decades later in the 1960s-1970s, which is to say when local was a derogatory term. Who wanted locally made food or products when you could get futuristic Tang, Pop-Tarts, and Twinkies in modern cellophane and foil wrappers or posters of the Beatles by Richard Avedon to display instead of grandma's crafts?  "Local yokel" was used by small town people when referring to the rural indigenous folks in the outlying areas. Now it's the name of a holiday craft fair in Sheboygan. Back then local = provincial and naive. Rural folk were stereotyped as hicks on screen from Hee Haw to the Beverly Hillbillies. Is it even possible to be an isolated hayseed in the Information Age of the 21st century? Is a new regionalism or "Neo-Regionalism" based on information and exchange possible? People in remote areas read the same Twitter feed as their urban counterparts and hipsters in Brooklyn sport plaid flannel and burly beards looking like north woods lumberjacks. Yet. Yet. Seeking affordable work space, artists have long opted for the remote and the low rent, which today translates into living in caves and yurts or seeking endless artist residencies. Living like nomads or radicants, artists wisely avoid sinking roots while dipping their feet into the ever changing river as a means to open pathways to dialog, venues, and financial/moral support.

"J. Shimon & J. Lindemann: We Go From Where We Know"
"Nash Corn Crib" and "Concrete Tear Drops" surrounded by portraits and postcards
at the the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
October 13, 2013-February 23, 2014
Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Art galleries increasingly indulge in cultural colonization in the 21st century with the most extreme example being the Gagosian Gallery franchising to London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, and Geneva; and the Guggenheim Museum with its expansions to Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Bilbao, and Las Vegas. Can artists, curators and art historians care about human existence (outside the spectacle and the lime light) in the remote hamlets around the world as meaningful subject or theme? It was with this question in mind that we conceived of our exhibition "We Go From Where We Know" examining our native Wisconsin and the specific mental space we have found here. Free to leave this frigid northern place on the 44th parallel, we chose to stay and look more closely--to make art about it and to teach. Our resulting research-driven installation at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (on view October 13, 2013-February 23, 2014) contains photographs, paintings, found objects, and works made of concrete--Wisconsin's medium of choice based on the numerous artist environments scattered about the state. We posted "found" vintage Wisconsin postcards on a blog not so much as an act of Wisconsin boosterism, but in an attempt to deconstruct the complex cultural messages contained in them and illicit a response using everyday social media. We wonder where it will go.

Portrait Society Gallery (MKE)
 Aqua Art Fair installation at Art Basel Miami Beach
J. Shimon & J. Lindemann "Decay Utopia Decay" series cyanotype
displayed on back wall, December 4-8, 2013

8.30.2013

The World of Paul (1912-2013 )


Paul J. Hefti playing his Casio keyboard in his La Crosse living room, 2002
We visited Paul Hefti once at Meadow Wood Assisted Living after he left his lifetime home at 515 Adams Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2004. His sculpture garden made of pop bottle whirligigs and red brick house were razed by city order. Still, he managed to transplant the atmosphere to the bland institutional environment of the nursing home. He gave us a tour using a nifty black walker and it was much like those he'd given us at his house. He highlighted recent sculptural works hung about the place peppering his commentary with limericks and giggles. We'd attempted visiting him at his house in the summer of 2004 after we'd completed work on our film and book project documenting him and three other older Wisconsin men titled, One Million Years is Three Seconds. It happened to be the last morning he lived at his old house. The soil was still damp from his watering his geraniums for the last time on that hot summer day. We met his neighbor and friend Susan about then and she kept us posted on how Paul was doing via an annual holiday card. He lived to be a hundred and had commented to us even way back when he was 90 that "Boy, that time goes fast. It seems like I just started." His art like all of life was ephemeral.


 One Million Years is Three Seconds 
Paul Hefti excerpt (2008)

2.26.2012

The Last Time We Saw Bob (1925-2012)

Bob Watt at home, Milwaukee  (12.23.2010)

Jon Reilly, Bob Watt (standing/seated), Milwaukee (1.23.2010)

Bob Watt's friend, publisher and DPOA, Jon Reilly taped a note to the front door of Bob's Dousman Street house the day before New Year's Eve. It said Bob had been taken to hospice in Mequon, but welcomed visitors. Hours later, we learned Bob soon would "cash in his chips"--a slogan Bob used often in his letters when reporting that another of his friends had passed on. Bob's heart was failing and a morphine drip eased him out. He died on January 2, 2012. It took awhile before an official obituary ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the daily paper Bob and his friends (known collectively as the Breakfast Club) read religiously. They'd gather at McDonalds, the only place in Milwaukee that hadn't kicked them out for loitering, for coffee and discussion before heading out on a "rummage run". First came the blog accounts of Bob's passing. Matt Wild wrote "Watt leaves behind a thorny but colorful legacy, as well as friends and loved ones to make sense of it all" in the Onion's A.V. Club Milwaukee (1.4.2012); Michael Horne called Watt "A true character" in his InsideMilwaukee.com post (1.5.2012); Molly Snyder wrote "Watt helped keep Milwaukee weird and for that, I will always appreciate him" for  OnMilwaukee.com (1.6.2012); and finally Tom Tolan's obituary summed up Bob's "outrageous persona when he was a Beat poet and mainstay of 1960s Milwaukee counterculture" for the MJS (1.8.2012).  Since 2004, Bob wrote us letters sometimes daily filling eight file boxes with his commentary on the Milwaukee art scene, his childhood, global politics, the Packers, the Badgers, as well as a poems, numerous copies of his will (which we always read ase a poem), original 35 mm slides of models, collages, and newspaper clippings passed along from Breakfast Club discussions. We received the last letter from Bob on May 3, 2011 after he'd recovered some from a heart attack that kept him in the hospital a number of days where he dictated a letter that ended with reportage of his hospital stay. While in the hospital recovering, he'd write us, "It's Friday, we missed all the rummages. We don't know how long we'll last. But the bloody vampires have gone crazy with all their needles. I wonder why the IV is so slow? Well, I guess they know what they are doing.." In his last letter he wrote, "We need more people in the arts in Milwaukee, can you send some this way?" After his spring 2010 heart attack, we didn't get around to visiting him until December 23 when we made a digital panorama in his parlor surrounded by paintings. We watched the Playboy Chanel with him and talked about the news. It had been more than 20 years since Dean Olson, co-founder of the Wright Street Gallery first brought us over to Bob's house (1987). We photographed him a few times that day and then in the 1990s before deciding to include him in a 16 mm film we were making about the creative process, progress, and time called "One Million Years is Three Seconds."



Bob Watt excerpt from our One Million Years is Three Seconds film



Fear No Art: Bob Watt segment by Paul Cotter
as aired on MATC/Milwaukee Public Television on February 19, 2012.
Photographer Francis Ford, publisher Jon Reilly, artist David Ruel
among others are interviewed.

4.16.2011

Art Chicago Next Fair 2011

Installation of J. Shimon and J. Lindemann prints in
Portrait Society Gallery's, Milwaukee, booth at
Art Chicago Next Fair's Preview Party, Thursday, April 28, 2011. 

Debra Brehmer's Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, brought a selection of our prints to Art Chicago Next Fair April 28-May 1, 2011 (222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza). We've been doing a lot of photographs about death lately, but it's these self-mocking rural Wisconsin landscapes (below) that seem okay for public viewing at the moment. Perhaps due to what's going on in the world? Also on view are works by Boris Ostrerov and Bernard Gilardi.

© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
Tomato Tower, 2008, 
Gum Bichromate Print, 36x30 inches

© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
 Silver Queen Corn, 2010,
Tea-Toned Cyanotype Print, 36x30 inches

© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
 Profile with Haystack, 2008, 
 Gum Bichromate over Cyanotype Print, 36x30 inches

© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
 Painting Wheels, 2009, 
Tea-toned Cyanotype Print, 36x30 inches







© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
 Screen Door, 2008, 
Tea-toned Cyanotype Print, 36x30 inches

Inspired by Weegee's self-portraits--with a heavy dose of Green Acres-ian ethos--we began making these pictures about summers isolated on our rural Wisconsin farm starting in 1996. In between raising most of our own food in a large organic garden and writing syllabi for the next year's courses, we stave off the inevitable decay of our place and ourselves. We stage the photographs in locations around our farm wearing "costumes" accumulated over decades of thrift shopping while reenacting the chores du jour.

© Weegee
Weegee and his Successor (circa 1948)

Still from Green Acres TV show
Oliver and Lisa with implement (circa 1965)

© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
 Self-Portrait Rototilling, 1996,
Platinum-Palladium Print, 10x8 inches

Our YouTube video documenting the process of making the photographs, titled Too Big, has gotten quite a few views thanks to a shout out on The Online Photographer. Julie's 2006 digital snapshot of John posing with the home-made "big camera" is posted on flickr and has been oft "favorited" (geek out). Prints from this ongoing series, Self-Portrait in the Garden at Dusk (see below), and Making Hay While the Sun is Shining were included in Facing the Lens: Portraits of Photographers (January 21 through August 28, 2011) and Wide-Eyed: Panoramic Photographs (September 15, 2011-January 29, 2012) at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.




© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann
 Self-Portrait in the Garden at Dusk, 1998,
Platinum-Palladium Print, 12x20 inches

4.10.2011

Life Is Beautiful

Lucy was game to learn digital photography and bought a Canon point-and-shoot to take pictures of her life and to bring along on her travels. But before she could start making new photos, she had a legacy of snapshots to reconcile. In particular where the prints that told the story of her brother who died more than 50 years ago of cancer. Recently diagnosed with cancer herself, Lucy remembered her brother's attitude about the disease and how he faced death saying "Life is Beautiful" moments before his death.  We met Lucy working on the cancer survivorship project at the Kohler Art Center in July 2010. Staff at the Kohler helped Lucy scan and post her old snapshots on Flickr. Without captions, we read one of the black-and-white square snapshots  on flickr as a portrait of a mother figure clad in apron removing a turkey from the oven on Thanksgiving day not realizing it was Lucy's mother preparing the last family holiday supper for her brother. We made a video of Lucy telling the stories of her photographs.