Featured artist leads MoCP retrospective

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

Sifting through thousands of works of art might sound like an impossible task, but not for local contemporary artist Jan Tichy, who curated the latest exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

Tichy visited MoCP Nov. 28 to talk with students and faculty about his role in “1971:1-2012:21,” which highlights 250 to 300 of the MoCP’s 12,000-item collection that has been accrued over the course of 30 years.

“We look for ways to put artists in direct conversation with visitors,” said Allison Grant, assistant curator and education coordinator at the museum. “We usually try to do at least one program

per exhibition.”

The MoCP commissioned Tichy in 2011 to curate its archive to make it more accessible to the public. As he sorted and organized the photographs, he selected those for the exhibit.

“As I was going through this collection, I wondered, ‘What can I say about this?” Tichy told the audience. “How can we define this collection?”

He said he used different criteria to organize his search, grouping images by size, form and age. This is reflected in the exhibition’s title, which refers to MoCP’s first and most recent acquisitions.

As he moved through the gallery, Tichy explained that he arranged the collection by brightness, which gave him the idea for “Collection,” a video installation that runs through MoCP’s entire archive in roughly seven minutes. He said the film flashes 25 images per second, but the brain registers only 15 per second, reflecting his use of  the entire collection as his material.

Tichy said he explored the museum’s collection through its online archive prior to the installation and felt it lacked accessibility.

“The first thing I realized is that the collection didn’t have additional information to make it searchable,” Tichy said.

To improve the online archive, Tichy met semiweekly with photography students from Columbia, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago to plan its redesign. The online archive now includes digital exhibitions, collection highlights and a tagging project that enables images to be indexed with strings of associated keywords, Tichy said.

He added that when the online archive was revised, he began producing his own work inspired by pieces in the “Changing Chicago” documentary series created by a team of photographers in 1986. He said he used a stationary camera to film scenes that correlated with the images from “Changing Chicago.” One film clip shows a street intersection in the Englewood neighborhood with the highest murder rate in the city, according to the Chicago Tribune’s homicide tracker.

“It was shot during the week of the teachers strike,” he said. “I saw these kids in a very different light, knowing what’s occurring around them.”

Tichy then removed the images from their original context and hung them with small screens showing his short films, creating a pattern for the audience to visually float through.

Karen Irvine, the museum’s curator and associate director, said she invited Tichy to work on the project because of his experience working with light, installations and sculptures. Irvine said she expected Tichy to use his unique style to interpret the collection.

While Tichy said exploring the collection was the most intriguing part of creating the exhibit, Irvine said the shift in the museum’s institutional culture surprised her the most as his curation overlapped his role artistic role.

“I think there’s a tendency a lot of times for anybody in this field to try [digitally] replicating the experience of physical objects or exhibitions, and maybe that should be questioned,” Irvine said. “A digital collection can be full of possibility and isn’t necessarily a second-rate substitute.”