1998 VHS 18 min

Erika Mijlin

The Whole History of That

1998 16mm 17 min

Jenny Perlin

Happy Are The Happy

1999 16mm 17 min

Sarah Jane Lapp, Jenny Perlin

by Daniel Eisenberg

This crazy idea, that a place can define a group of work, or that the influence of a city will be felt in the esthetic or subject matter of artists working in that place, can we ever possibly agree to that? We should be happy that we can never know. True or not, we can't deny the influence of peers, of what's going on around us, of what we see and speak about. The problem though, is that the neighborhood has changed. That any city-state the size of Chicago can be subject merely to the local forces around us is absurd. In our fin-de-siècle media environment we operate as aware of what is happening on the South Side of Chicago as we are of the issues and arguments that are taking place in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, São Paulo, Johannesburg, Manila, or London.

We live in an international city. As a large post-industrial landscape with post-millenial problems we are faced with the displacements, disappointments, dreams, and desires of people from everywhere trying to make a home in the center of a de-centered America. What makes Chicago distinct? Its history, for one. This city, only a hundred and fifty years old, draws all those who are not drawn to the coast, who feel more at home in the flatland, away from mountains or sea. It is known as the city of 'broad shoulders,' its motto is 'The city that works.' Its history is part of this century's labor struggles, of the civil rights movement, of the student revolt of the sixties, of the old-style machine politics of the Democratic party. Its effect can be felt daily from Buffalo, New York to Denver, Colorado, from Minneapolis Minnesota to Houston, Texas. Its slaughterhouses, steel factories, railyards, skyscrapers, canals and shores have drawn the African-Americans of the Mississippi delta, the Germans, Poles, Swedes, Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, Czechs and Slovaks from Europe, the Koreans, Indians, Pakistanis, Thai and Vietnamese from Asia.
As for these film and video artists, they too come from all over the United States. And because America is defined by mobility, their commitment to a community defined by location is not as strong as you would find in Europe or Asia. Who knows how many, a year from now, will be here? As in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston, young artists must move to where things are happening or where there is money. For now, Chicago is happening. Much exciting work is being generated here. The Film Center, Facets Multimedia, The Chicago Underground Film Festival, Chicago Filmmakers', The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Video Databank, Columbia College, and Doc Films at the University of Chicago, and the more than fourteen other annual film and video festivals -- these are the institutions that draw young media artists to Chicago. Many more established artists have made Chicago their home. And many younger artists are staying. As in the 'seventies, Chicago is once again becoming an important place to look for what's going on in American Media Art.

Although Chicago the city appears in some of these works, what really distinguishes the work is the community among the makers themselves. They work on one another's projects, they stretch their own ideas of filmmaking to help each other out. And in doing so they are forming, more or less, an ideal community. One that respects differences in esthetic, subject matter, and form, one that encourages risk-taking and the re-definition of genres. Experimentation is key, and the results are anything but derivative. These works are fresh, original, idiomatic. As with young artists everywhere the impulse towards expression and identity is evident. But even more than in most places, these artists believe in the power of the moving image, and have dedicated themselves to refining their craft. These works are state of the art, from the punk/beat esthetic of Jennifer Reeder's 'White Trash Girl' to the virtual, computer-generated worlds of Joshua Mosley, from the explorations of public and private documents in Erika Mijlin's 'Lineage' to Jenny Perlin's post-modern return to the Europe of her ancestors. All of these film and video makers are exploring the ways the image is invested with power, and revealing the mechanics of our accepted genres.

Perhaps more than in other places, Chicago film and videomakers see their task as artists as a challenge – a challenge to the conventions of making, viewing, form, and subject. Even the idea of the 'independent media artist' is challenged, as so many of these artists give themselves and their creative energy to each other, eschewing the idea of the lone, ego-centric artist. And this may be the most radical gesture of all from this generation of Chicago artists'

Curator: Daniel Eisenberg, Associate Professor of Filmmaking, School of the Art Institute of Chicago