Esthetic Lens recently caught up again with Matt Siber to see what he’s been working on as the world is starting to slowly come out of hiding. He shared some of his recent series, Collective Consciousness as well as some of his thoughts about the work and being included in an in-person exhibition for the first time since the world went on lockdown.
This body of work was created during my residency with the CPS Lives, Art in Public Schools organization. These images were made over two academic years spanning 2019-21 in the A.N. Pritzker Elementary School in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I reside in Wicker Park with my family. My two daughters are students at Pritzker School. CPS Lives is a residency program founded by Suzette Bross that places artists in Chicago Public Schools for one-year residencies.
March 2021 is feeling like the start of a reawakening. The past year has been creatively productive, but my mode of working has been different than usual. I’ve been making work in a more reactive manner rather than my usual mode of careful thinking and planning. The Collective Consciousness project is a bridge project; I am reacting to the objects and spaces I encounter each time I enter the school. I am doing a lot of thinking about meaning and approach in-between visits. It is a very satisfying place for me to be artistically right now.
The Lens2021 exhibition at Perspective Gallery is my first physical exhibition in quite a while. It comes at an appropriate time where Covid numbers are dropping after horrific casualties this past winter. While there are significant restrictions on viewing this exhibition, it feels like an indication that the long process of re-establishing a new “normal” post-pandemic is beginning. Covid-19 has taken a tragic toll on the arts, and we really don’t know the full extent of it yet. When a smaller local gallery like Perspective opens an in-person exhibition, they are making a statement: that local art scenes will survive despite being decimated by the pandemic. We are seeing peeks of optimism this spring; this is just one example.
Another reason for my brain kicking back into gear is that my daughters returned to in-person schooling this month. Only some students have returned to the classroom, while others continue to learn remotely. Having my children occupied during the day finally gives me larger chunks of time to devote to big projects. During remote schooling, my time has been heavily fragmented, with regular interruptions to my workflow by a first and fourth-grader who pop in and out of online learning throughout the day. Gwen, my first-grader, has gotten pretty good at playing Legos on the floor behind me as I work on my computer in my home studio. Still, she is an inquisitive little girl, and my work is regularly interrupted by a question, idea, or simply a hug.
Continuing on the subject of school, I have finally settled into the spring semester at SAIC. I am teaching two classes in the Photography Department, Advanced Post-Production and Fine Printing, and my topics class, Desire, Representation, and The Self. Post Production has to meet in person as I can’t teach printing via Zoom. Our students are very good at following pandemic protocols at school, as we have been operating this way for several months now. The Desire class is my first class taught entirely remotely. This was the source of a great deal of anxiety on my part over the winter break. We are now several weeks in and it is going far better than I anticipated. The students are fantastic, and they are more used to the online format than I am (no surprise). Engagement with serious art students, including my TA, has been a sustaining force for my own practice and creativity. Secretly, I think I may get more out of my teaching than my students do.
The most practical and pressing reason for my mental spark this month is my solo exhibition at Ignition Project Space in Humboldt Park in June. This exhibition is an installation involving photography, sculpture, and other objects that continue my visual examination of consumerism. This installation pushes my earlier work forward by drawing parallels between the structures of consumerism and the ways in which we perpetuate American ideology and mythos in public space. I have a couple of fabrication issues to solve by June, which has prompted a necessary return to mental clarity. I am very excited about this exhibition as it will reflect some of my thoughts, feelings, and ideas regarding the state of our country and the world right now. Through the lens of Matt Siber, this will always include the forces of Advanced Capitalism.
Collective Consciousness Statement
Collective Consciousness examines the objects in the educational space that make institutional learning possible. Thinking sculpturally, I aim to present these objects slightly outside of their usual context. Singular objects are reoriented, relocated, or photographed from unusual perspectives. Pushing the sculptural approach further, I create temporary assemblages of objects to be photographed. These constructions offer a wide range of possible metaphors regarding education, knowledge, human development, and the constructs of society. My assemblages walk a line between the verge of collapse and relative stability. I am interested in this tension as a way to think about the process of growing and learning as a young person. I also see a playfulness in these photographs that references many of the grade school approaches to making learning interesting and fun.
The pandemic lockdown hit at the start of the final quarter of my first school year in residence. This ended my production for the 2019-20 academic year. For the 2020-21 academic year, I have been working in an empty school. There are infrastructure and other materials in the school regarding the pandemic that is in place in anticipation of the students returning to in-person learning. Some of these details are present in my most recent images, adding the context of the pandemic to the project.
Matt Siber is a dad, artist, and educator living in Chicago. His multi-disciplinary art practice employs photography, digital imaging, sculpture, and installation to address issues of consumerism and late Capitalism. His work has been published, collected, and exhibited nationally and internationally. Matt is an Assistant Professor, Adjunct in the Photography Department of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he has taught since 2010.
Matt Siber’s work is part of the LENS21 exhibition at Perspective Gallery in Evanston, IL. The show is up until March 28th, 2021.