I was lucky enough to go to Chicago for work last week – for three days – literally a flying visit from the other side of the Atlantic! It was my first visit to the city, and I was struck by how progressive, liberal and balanced it felt with a diverse population of white, black, Hispanic as well as a China Town, Little Italy, Polish Downtown, Greek Town, well dressed professionals, homeless veterans and the buzz and grit of cosmopolitan city life that makes any Londoner feel at home. However, a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) was a powerful reminder of the civil rights and segregation issues which have plagued America, and the Chicago area is no exception. The current exhibitions by Dawoud Bey and Carlos Javier Ortiz & David Schalliol both highlight problems with integration; Bey’s two poignant bodies of work tell the story of three Klu Klux Klan members who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 killing four fourteen year old African American girls, and the ensuing violence that followed as a consequence. This is revisited in a 2012 series of black and white portraits in which Bey captures images of children the same age as those who had died, alongside portraits of adults at the age the children wold have been in 2013 (the 50th anniversary of the bombs). Bey’s work is coupled with Ortiz and Schalliol’s Chicago Stories, a more contemporary exploration of similar issues via evocative images of isolated buildings and those who live in them which explore the legacy of the Great Migration and the continued demolition and resettlement of African American communities across Chicago’s “black belt” in the south and west of the city where black residents were limited to living, but have since created thriving communities which are now being destroyed. The staff are both helpful and knowledgeable, entrance to both exhibitions is free, and I would highly recommend dropping in before 7 July when the shows close.
Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen is unusual as all of its exhibitions are produced, initiated or chosen by artists, with a focus on collective shows by experimental groups or networks. These principles have been present since its conception in 1891 when a handful of artists challenged the juried exhibition at Charlottenborg, and founded this centre as an alternative. True to its original vision the two exhibitions currently on display feature an artistic duo, and heavily experimental and provocative artworks. The ground floor galleries are dedicated to Hesselholdt & Mejlvang’s ‘Native Exotic, Normal’ exhibition which is highly topical in light of Brexit exploring eurocentrism, the Western perception of ‘the other’, and discrimination within everyday life. The first two galleries look at symbolic and contextual meaning through silk coats of arms in pastel colours devoid of any heraldic content, and Danish iconography (including a Klint Lamp, Arne Jacobson chairs and model ship) placed in an unfamiliar gallery context devaluing them dramatically. Another gallery displays what initially appear to be light hearted totempole balloon sculptures – adversely they have caricatures of ‘Hottentots’ (a derogatory word for ‘wild natives’ used by Europeans) at their apex, removing any light-heartedness. Similarly another space contains chains running across its length and breadth with obvious connotations to the slave trade and colonialization, but also to tripwires as the artists hope their work will force people to take a stand. Downstairs, the basement gallery houses ‘Salon Des Refuses’ by Tina Maria Nielsen where the artist has transformed mundane, everyday items (including mobile phones, a ladder, an umbrella, blinds and ostrich eggs) into beautiful bronze, plaster, paraffin and concrete sculptures. In deciding which items to laboriously sculpt, she questions which objects people feel attached to versus those we reject. Unlike upstairs, there is no natural light and the gallery feels deliberately repressive, much like a cellar where things are stored or hidden. The two shows complement each other well and I’d certainly advise a visit if you’re in Copenhagen over the summer.