There’s something egotistical about mailing your trash to an admirer, but it’s also a way of generating a mystique. When School of the Art Institute instructor and erstwhile zinemaker Marc Fischer sent off a letter to the prolific but obscure Parisian transgressive artist and self-publisher Bruno Richard looking for more information on Richard’s work, he got more than he bargained for. After nine years of correspondence–some packages swollen with so much personal ephemera they cost almost $40 to mail–Fischer turned the material into an exhibition, now showing as part of “Exalted Trash,” which opened last weekend at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts and runs through December 9.
Fischer, who’s also part of the project space Mess Hall and the art ensemble Temporary Services, arranged the shards collage-style: flyers for museum exhibitions in Paris; a map of the TGV from Lyon to Lille; diagrams for possible future book projects; gorgeous screen-printed comic books; photocopies of photos from books, such as a little kid with a rope burn on his neck and another with a flayed back; Richard’s own scratchy, dysfunctional, pornographic illustrations on vellum; dirty but strangely clinical pictures of naked ladies engaged in lesbionic sex acts.
Most of the personal notes in-cluded are posted too high up to read, and even when I was able to see them with the binoculars provided by the college I couldn’t understand them because I don’t speak French. Fischer doesn’t either. But he likes ambiguity, especially Richard’s “collusions of content and sources that cycle way back into your head,” he says. Richard’s work uses juxtaposition to play with cognitive dissonance and “moral complexity, such as consensual S-M images placed near stills from a women’s prison movie,” says Fischer.
You can easily get lost in Richard’s world, even if you’re not sure you’re understanding it correctly. And you probably aren’t, since this show includes frustratingly little background information on Richard or his actual published work. It seems like Fischer has gotten so deep into his subject that he forgot to step back and explain to his audience why any of it should matter to anyone else. Without context, trying to find meaning in someone else’s trash can be an exercise in frustration.
After seeing “Exalted Trash” I did some reading and learned that Richard has published more than 60 books since 1976, full of filthy semiabstract images. He met Pascal Doury in boarding school in Sevres, and the two boys started working together. Together they created the protozine Elles Sont de Sortie, filled with their twisted, tormented art and typography. After Doury’s death in 2001, Richard took over the publication, which he still runs. Criticism or explanation of Richard’s work is hard to find, but a short list of some of the artists he’s collaborated with–Gary Panter, Mark Beyer, Art Spiegelman, Jean-Louis Costes–speaks to his significance and influence.
In a perfect marriage of anal compulsion and anal expulsion, Fischer also included in “Exalted Trash” some of his own work, which juxtaposes found images from his library: pictures cut out from magazines and books and meticulously organized into such categories as “schematic faces,” “people balancing things on their head,” and “upper chest and body.”
Fischer says he takes “real pleasure in making pictures do things, like talk to each other. I like to point out unlikely relationships.” Perhaps the highlight of the show is Fischer’s telephone-book-thick binders full of images arranged in subtle and clever ways. Simply by placing images side by side–fetish illustrations of a hot, large-bosomed woman missing a limb next to a newspaper clipping of a sad old man with no legs, for example, or an Issey Miyake ad where a model stands deadpan with a thin veil of hair pulled over her face next to a peasant child working in a cocaine factory with a nylon stocking over his face–Fischer examines ideas like privilege versus need.
Fischer’s work is all about organization, whereas Richard’s mailed packages are an eruption of semiformed thought. The former has a satisfactory conclusion, the other an unresolved voyeuristic intrigue. None of it seems forced, just compulsive, but both are manufactured with specific intent. Connoisseurs of the obscure, take heed.
Allison Busch was born to rock. Last Saturday at South Union Arts, watching her sway from cymbal to cymbal in Awesome Color, kind of a punk rock Skynyrd from Brooklyn, it was obvious she belonged nowhere but right where she was, behind her drums.
Wearing a plain navy blue T-shirt with the Detroit Tigers’ Old English D on the chest, not-cool jeans, khaki Vans–barefaced, no jewelry–Busch began every song with gusto, like she couldn’t wait to get started. Smiling, she’d crack the sticks over her head together a few times, a snap to attention for her two dude bandmates, then tear into it with her mouth open, hair whipping everywhere. Busch put her whole existence behind each beat, hitting as hard as she could. Even her enlarged shadow on the wall fucking rocked.
As she pounded and sweated ecstatically, I imagined her driving a bitchin’ boogie van with the window down, right hand tapping the wheel to whatever song’s on the radio, left hand out feeling the wind rush by. Allison Busch does exactly what she loves, and what she loves is simple. The world needs more people like her.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer, Liz Armstrong (Busch).