re: essays


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art && amplification


Art is undoubtedly an omnipresent institutional force, but what societal function does said institution actually serve? I posit that art seems to be an amplification, its function being not to create new cultural ideas, but to make what it chooses to react to louder and more visible within the cultural stream. This function co-exists with other facets of history, exemplified within the relationships between the Peloponnesian War and Aristophanes’ The Acharians, or the rise of bourgeois capitalism and Shakespeare. In these relationships, the causal forces travel in just one direction. The work of art is, in some exceedingly uncertain sense, the effect (Stolnitz 200).

“Art, which is as ubiquitous as any institution, art, like Conan Doyle’s dog in the night, is noteworthy because of what it does not do. There is no aetiology of history that takes art to be either the fundamental agent or a significant member of the class of plural causes. No other major institution has been found to have so little consequence” (Stolnitz 197). Unpacking the reference to Conan Doyle’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time reveals that there are more complexities here, and that there is power to be found in art’s lack of causality; like the protagonist in the novel, a self-described “mathematician with behavioral problems”, artists see the world from a multitude of unique perspectives, these perspectives being valuable in and of themselves. Artists, being undoubtedly products of their own cultures and histories record their reactions through the act of art making. Through the institutionalized actions we associate with art, such as its curation, display, and critique, art creates a sort of echo chamber, or amplifier, for ideas, both historical and contemporary.

Through careful curation and preservation, individual works of art, representing individual reactions, grouped in conversation with each one another, “last and are the livest, liveliest things we have from the past. They are not the past’s chronicles of the past and its peoples, they are the living presences of the past. Nor are they premises for inferences to the past….they are themselves delightful and admirable, not, or not only, clues to a further truth” (Stolnitz 200). Important is the distinction made that it is the work of art itself that is valuable, opposed to some supposed inferences it would allow us to make to the past. Art is an enduring sensory presence, and is never critiqued in a condescending manner; for example, even ancient cave paintings are unironically admired for their formal qualities by contemporary artists. Whatever art preserves seems to be timeless.

It could be said then, that artists are a class of designators, highlighting, consciously or unconsciously, events or particular zeitgeists through reactionary object or performance making. Art, like the troubled protagonist of Doyle’s work, and most notably, like no other such major institution, has no defined place or role in the world. Art making seems to occur naturally, and without impetus, in contrast to more laborious and empirical endeavors such as science and economics. It is counterintuitive, and rather in opposition to our western cultural narrative to conceive of art and artists not as creators, but rather as reactionaries, the avant garde of cultural practice; yet it is true that artists have little causal power of their own.

It is when corroborated throughout the span of time that artistic ideas and concept are able to build a collective unconscious that exists constantly in conversation with itself; a cultural, and increasingly cross-cultural, meta-consciousness. It is within this meta-consciousness that the amplifying echoic chamber effect occurs. Whatever is most pondered on the minds of the period’s artists will inevitably be reflected within the art of that time. The conventions of the art world, such as exhibition and preservation, allow artists to bridge the gaps between zeitgeists and initiate conversation with prior artworks, allowing for a form of universalized inter-temporal communication.

As an artist practicing in the 21st century, this inter-temporal communication seems especially heightened by the mass dissemination of information through communications technologies, such as the internet and radio. The ubiquity of digital information allows contemporary artists an unlimited access to material and literature, far beyond what was available previously. This paradigm shift radically challenges our prior “they” concept regarding the creation of culture; now, thanks in large part to the proliferation of cameras on cellular phones, and the rise of social networking, the consumers are additionally the content creators. There doesn’t need to be a specific end goal to an artist’s production, it is the act of art making that seems to be more important; rather it is the public role-playing of the occupation of ‘artist’ that lends legitimacy to one’s practice. This new paradigm is completely disconnected from both space and time, connected to the market by means of fractalized units of money and attention – the value of art is now decided by the relation of the artist to others. These artists have unprecedented opportunity with which to react to culture, because our culture is more pervasive than ever.

I believe that contemporary artists have unprecedented opportunity with which to react to culture, because contemporary culture is more pervasive than ever.


Stolnitz, Jerome. “On The Historical Triviality Of Art.” The British Journal of Aesthetics Brit J Aesthetics 31.3 (1991): 195-202. Web.

phenomenology ++ self identity


Phenomenology seeks to make the familiar newly surprising through the scrupulousness of its attention, exposing the strangeness of the self-evident. It calls not for complacency or confession but for strenuous reflection on how aesthetic devices speak to and help shape selves.

Growing up alongside the internet, this definition of phenomenology has always seemed natural to me – It seems normal to think of the things I am aesthetically and critically attracted to as being both intrinsic to the self and as signifiers of self-identity.

Is this a side effect of our unprecedented mass access to culture coupled with an increased sense of aesthetically determined self-identity brought about through social networking?

swimming in new language

Louis Packard is a poet based in Chicago, Illinois. Louis’ previous work has appeared on Electric Cereal, 22nd Century Lit, and on Beach Sloth.

i’m making fun of jack kerouac,
because among other reasons
he never got the chance to fall in love w someone over the internet
shouts out all my eBohemians
leeching free wifi
on mac books lifted from art school supply closets
selfies in the art museum
performance art is like me becoming friends w teens playing call of duty on xbox live performance art is like u kissing me then me leaving the state
basedgod guiding my plane home safely
returning to life as boo rad-ley
yung hikikomori

“Poets sometimes fumble with new language. Packard sings in it. Often, said fumbling includes a number of cloaking mechanisms: allusions to savantism, feigned ignorance of the lineage of forms, an unjustifiable anger. None of these are present here.
Consider how the poet places himself into a historical context in the following poem. Consider “yung hikikomori” in contrast to Kerouac’s “smoke hashishi”. Consider what the fun is that the poet’s making here. Consider the beauty of the sound of “yung hikikomori.” – Adam Tedesco, Editor @ Reality Beach ~ RE: 2 Louis Packard’s chapbook pls drown me in ur bathtub w iced coffee, published by Moloko House in 2016.

(original interview link)

job titles


Art education institutions often relentlessly refer to their students as “artists” – I posit that this takes away a great deal of self-determination on the part of the student – many attend these institutions in search of more scholarly, academic pursuits, w/o the intention of making artworks, while others see themselves as exclusively writers/publishers/curators, while others wish the shun labels entirely in order to distance themselves from the “fine art” world. In addition, in doing this it presents the dangerous idea that students in school are currently functioning in the world as artists. This grants a sense of entitlement to those who want to make fine artworks, as rather than having to justify what they are doing through experiential evidence (prior shows, past works, etc.) young artists attempt to use their paid degree as a ticket into the art world – this is often unsuccessful unless the student has sufficient social clout w/ the specific corner of the art world they are trying to penetrate. Rather than trying to establish themselves as artists, students flounder, trying to justify their non-existent (in a public sense) art practices. In addition, this leads students to feeling like they are in “over their heads” after school, as school spoon feeds the students facsimiles of the opportunities (re: SAIC’s BFA/MFA shows in on coddling) they need to actively seek out & pursue in a competitive social world. Students often graduate unaware of the social skills they will need to do this successfully, and quickly give up on their artistic pursuits once their previously easy-to-obtain artistic validation is traded for a paradigm in which critical validation is much harder to obtain, if any critical attention is paid to a piece at all. Often, works go up & come down w/o a nuanced critique, and students must be able to remain self-assured & self-interested in their practices.
 Furthermore, the social networks are not readily set in place – after school, the only real value an artist leaves w/ is the value of the social connections they have obtained while in school (see artists w/o art) & if this social network, or the individual’s social networking skills are weak, this can lead to a talented artist going unnoticed. As Brad Troemel writes in Club Kids: The Social Life of Artists on Facebook: ” ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ For young artists…the answer to the forest question is ‘no’– their work will easily go unnoticed, making their participation as a social actor an a priori necessity to contextualizing what they do as art.”

on coddling


“Nearing graduation, the chair of the department held a meeting for the graduating class to see if we had any questions or concerns as we were getting ready for post-MFA life amidst the economic crisis. Although the gesture was welcomed by the twenty students in the room, hardly anyone spoke or asked questions. This was not because no one had questions or concerns, but because we had not spent the last two years of our time together developing the language or safe spaces to be able to have difficult conversations such as this one. We had failed each other as well.” – Billie Lee, On Performing The Critical (found in Beyond Critique, a collection of essays curated by Pamela Fraser & Roger Rothman)

The educational art institution fundamentally fails its pupils in preparing them for a life after arts education – to quote The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s faculty handbook: “evaluation…will be based on teaching effectiveness, professional involvement, curricular flexibility and the academic needs of the department.” in a way, the term “teaching effectiveness” shifts the burden of student failure from the institution onto the instructors shoulders – students who are unsuccessful in their artistic pursuits arrive there through no failure of their own in the eyes of the institutional overlords, rather this is seen as a failure of the pedagogy of the instructor. This is problematic in numerous ways, for at first, it seems to discourage honesty primarily – professors will be more likely to pass a student, even a difficult one, as failing them reflects poorly upon their pedagogical practice, as well as potentially being seen as a subjective critical hostility towards the individual student (who has invested several thousand dollars into the class in order to receive credit, & perhaps money speaks louder than criticality in many of these instances). 

This lapse in honesty creates the permission that effort is optional among students, (i.e. as long as you turn in something, you will pass – esp. w/ SAIC’s credit/no credit grading system) – this is perhaps a consequence of the AIC’s embrace of plurality or subjectivity – yet, undoubtedly it is the goal of the institution to prepare students for lives as artists outside the institution.

Undoubtedly certain students will make work that is a complete failure in an either objective or subjective sense, perhaps it is sloppily assembled due to a real lack of engagement w/ the class/education, or it is blatantly problematic, or is just uninteresting – regardless, such work is given an equal time of critical discussion, rather than called out for wasting class time. This is unfair to all students involved, as the student who makes a project “just to pass” doesn’t really care about what people have to say about it critically – in fact, there may be hardly anything to say about it at all. In addition, even when the attempt is sincere, students deserve to face the same harsh criticality they would outside the safety of the institution. Most students will follow the instructor’s lead in these situations – due to institutional policies which don’t offer instructors much protection if they upset a student w/ continual negative criticisms, instructors will often refrain from fully critiquing the work. This is a space where the presenting student’s colleagues ought to fill a harshly critical role, yet due to the continued attitude of apathy re: bad work, instead decide to disengage from the class until the allotted time is up & they can present their own work. This is likely due to a fear of social conflict, in which no real reward is offered, since the presenting student cannot simply be booed off the stage, for lack of a better descriptor.

In addition, there is an idea among instructors that the work presented in classes is “student work”, rather than “peer work” – this perpetuates ageism as well as experiential discrimination b/t instructor & student – the student being seen by the professor as “inexperienced” or “developing”, when in truth, all artists exist in a constant state of discovery, & and are always developing – many young artists who developed their practice outside of the institution become wildly successful almost overnight, proving that there is little advantage instructors have over their students fundamentally. Professors ought to evaluate students as if they were peers, yet this hardly ever happens due to an unfair view of students being unskilled enough to meet those standards. Students are able to sense this condescending coddling, and often will produce lesser works for classes, while simultaneously producing advanced works for curators outside of the institution, as it is in the non-institutional environment these students sense the risk of public failure and invest large amounts of effort into mitigating the risk of embarrassment. This risk of public embarrassment needs to be much stronger within the institution, and could easily be made more so by further publicizing student work by having critiques occur within the context of a hard-to-get-curated-into cohesive exhibition that is attended by institutional peers & the non-institutional public. This sort of show, however, is often imitated by opportunities within the institution, accessible to the students during their time there, such as faux gallery shows (SAIC’s BFA/MFA shows come to mind, in which there are no actual entry requirements other than having completed a degree, and no critical requirements or cohesion of the work whatsoever), in which documentation appears to show these individual students succeeding in their practice, in order to cover up these students miserable post-graduation careers – many students find, that after a successful institutional career, their work is dismissed by fields of study & even social circles they may have once thought themselves close to. For example, upon graduating from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, many students find it difficult to obtain a job in Chicago itself, due to the familiarity local art businesses have w/ the lackadaisical student body – in effect, the school is locally renowned for producing carelessly lazy faux artists who feel entitled to a place in the local scene due to being included in shows that did not have as stringent of entry requirements as their future, peer-run galleries will.

5th wave institutional critique


“An artist can aspire to a certain sovereignty, which today implies that in addition to producing art, one also has to produce the conditions that enable such production, its channels of circulation. Sometimes the production of these conditions can become so critical to the production of work that it assumes the shape of the work itself. This should not be confused with the job curators have and the work they do. As an artist, I would not attempt to propose a solution for curators; they themselves need to come up with ways of thinking and working that do not undercut the sovereignty of artists.
[one can see the production of these conditions]…as partaking in a new fifth wave of institutional critique; one in which building new ‘institutions’, often separate from existing infrastructure, is the decisive factor. It’s about self-determination and involves strategic separatism.”
– Anton Vidokle

To build on Vidokle, it is becoming increasingly clear that these new institutions will increasingly exist, not in physical spaces like Vidokle’s Unitednationsplaza, but in virtual spaces & across social networks – an example of this would be the burgeoning small book press scene; rather than relying on the existing, and often conservative, pre-internet poetry/prose/creative non-fiction publishers, young people have begun to start their own distribution centers for avant-garde expressions of language. Young people (defined here as people who experienced their childhood & adolescence through the lens of the internet) are perhaps best suited to being the stewards of language-forward expression, as their fluidity in virtual spaces & w/ new language (emojis, txt abbv, memes) renders them a hard to understand ‘other’ to pre-internet culture publishers/curators/consumers.

Rather than attempt to justify themselves to an increasingly obsolete set of institutions, young people have begun their own. These spaces are radically not profit-seeking, often hemorrhaging money in order to distribute content. Indeed, the notoriety that being a prolific content distributor brings seems worth the financial cost to many of these young publishers. These organizations solicit submission from writers through social media (primarily Twitter, and rarely Facebook – perhaps the anonymity & character restriction of Twitter draws in writers more than the image laden surveillance culture of Facebook) & curate those submissions into various collections, splits, and solo books.

Many, if not most, of these young writers are completely disinterested in engaging a dialogue w/ the contemporary art world, dismissing it as largely classist, exclusionary, and impossible to break into w/o sublimating their work into the “fine art” culture. This provides an interesting challenge for art historians & curators, as they are clearly interested in these works & publications (as seen in the Art Institute of Chicago’s #gointernetpoems series of tweets, which were curated by Steve Roggenbuck – author of The YOLO Pages, published by Boost House) yet, the artists producing these works are only interested in institutional recognition as a compliment to the promotion of their own institutions (seen in how in these tweets, the Art Institute is transformed into a highly visible billboard advertising institutions running entirely separately from itself). In addition, it is probable that the entire #gointernetpoems series was started not by a connection b/t Steve Roggenbuck & the AIC, but rather by a connection between Steve Roggenbuck & the person running the AIC’s twitter (presumably a young, technology savvy individual connected w/ the online writing community, in which Roggenbuck has a fair bit of notoriety.) In this, reference artists w/o art, in order to see how social connections between artists are increasingly where the potential for success as an artist lies, and consider how that impacts the status-quo role of the institution as curator (i.e. how the AIC serves a secondary role in this example, serving not as a primary curating institution, but merely as a billboard, purchasable through enough social capital, that points the way towards the new institution responsible for the production of the work.)

Please support these independent publishers by purchasing their content.

Boost House

Moloko House


Hobart Pulp

Reality Beach

2fast2house // Spy Kids Review

Tyrant Books

Ghost City Press

Bottlecap Press

Seafoam Mag

Peach Magazine