Paul Sietsema explores what it means to be an artist now—amid the barrage of images; the telescoping of past, present, and future that instant access to information seems to provide; and the ease with which digital means can present alternate realities. He begins with traditional media—photographs and other items, including bits of scrap wood or found objects—that refer to specific bodies of knowledge (such as art history), realistically rendering them in meticulously worked drawings and sculptures. He then films these various drawings and sculptures, a process that can span two to five years, arranging and comparing the original images and objects with the ideas, information, and knowledge associated with them to explore how imagery and material affect our understanding of culture and history. Sietsema’s complex working method reflects his belief that the purpose of an artwork is not to transmit but to mediate information or meaning in a way that matches its cultural and temporal context. This flattening out of history makes the subjects of his work accessible to the viewer in unexpected ways, suggesting new stories and connections over time.
This exhibition, the most comprehensive account of the artist’s work to date, focuses on three major projects: Figure 3 (2008); a pair of films recently shown at Kunsthalle Basel, Telegraph and Encre chine (both 2012); and a new body of work provisionally titled Chinese Box. The central films associated with these projects are displayed, accompanied by related suites of sculptures, collages, and works on paper.
In Figure 3, Sietsema’s subject is ethnographic objects, chosen for their purposeful, undecorated forms from illustrations in old books, which he reinterpreted through highly detailed drawings and sculptures, and then captured on 16 mm film. The film resembles an ethnographic documentary, highlighting Sietsema’s fascination with methods of cataloguing and classification while blurring the line between the authentic and the reproduced, between reality and representation. In Telegraph, Sietsema utilizes different configurations of scrap wood found in his studio and in the street, including wreckage resulting from Hurricane Katrina, to investigate systems of communication and their relationship to meaning (or the absence of meaning). At the forefront in Encre chine are frames, tools, brushes, and other objects commonly found in an artist’s studio covered in a viscous black ink, the “encre de chine” used in etching. For the artist this “interference” functions as a metaphorical enactment of the chemical processes of film as well as a commentary on how objects “deteriorate” as they pass through processes of mediation. With Chinese Box, Sietsema embarks on his most ambitious work yet. The sculptures, books, drawings, collages, and film that comprise the project examine the historical trajectory of a set of culturally important materials, chief among these, bronze, ceramic, marble, and wood.
The exhibition is organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, and curated by Christopher Bedford, director of the Rose Art Museum, Waltham, Massachusetts. The Chicago presentation is coordinated by Lynne Warren, Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by Liz and Eric Lefkofsky.
Additional generous support is provided by Phillips.
MCA Chicago is a proud member of Museums in the Park and receives major support from the Chicago Park District.
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