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Black Iron Vatican

Tuesday, January 29, 2008–Thursday, March 06, 2008

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With the exhibition Black Iron Vatican, Andy Roche develops an aesthetic examination of the Catholic left. In an installation of multiple video works and posters, Roche establishes a relationship between the subjectivity expressed in the radical witnessing of Catholic leftists and the reverie of pop culture devotees holed up behind bedroom doors. Featuring elements of this, Roche ’s first solo exhibition includes a recitation of the rosary as a howling dub performance, images of nuclear warheads played like marimbas, the arrests that follow the annual protest trespass at Fort Benning, Georgia, and scenes of ecstatic collective protest.

The central piece, Black Iron Vatican, a 16 minute silent video, shifts through planes of allusion and documentary, with evocative results. Opening with a scene of discussion, possibly religious testifying, the action quickly segues into found footage of the Hennessey sisters, famous siblings and Franciscan nuns from Dubuque, Iowa, who were long-time participants in radical social activism. In 2001, Dorothy and Gwen, at the time aged 88 and 68 respectively, were sentenced to 6 months each in federal prison for trespassing on Fort Benning ’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly the School of the Americas), a base implicated in the training of Latin American paramilitary groups known for human rights abuses. Setting a foundation for issues of witnessing, surveillance, testifying, higher powers, and subterfuge, the Hennessey sisters ’ imagery gives way to hammering hands and commences with a series of disconcerting inter-cuts, including recent footage of Fort Benning protests, that suture together the mundane and the fantastical as based in faith and body. In fleeting footage that is sometimes frenetic and sometimes elusive, even foreboding, the zone of trespass at Fort Benning is established. When one protestor, enacting her belief, quickly crosses that line, the force of her capture is felt through a long close-up shot. The fuzzy and faded exposures and focus of Black Iron Vatican recall the formal qualities of independent cinema as well as leftist guerilla filmmaking of the 60s and 70s, evoking questions about the position of the sites, activities, and aesthetics of contemporary protests, in so far as they have been influenced by established histories and practices.

Several other works in the exhibition, both videos and posters, raise questions of disappointment, powerlessness, worship, and fellowship. One video work, Announcing the Mysteries (19 min.), takes as its inspiration long-running Catholic television programs featuring rosary recitation. The original programs typically feature soft focus and super-imposed edits with multiple camera angles trained on an idyllic youth in a lush landscape leading the rosary, first on his own and then slowly joined by others in his or her faith. In his self-performed work, Roche ’s incantation is more guttural and ambiguous. Isolated in a rural landscape, his primal repetitions point toward an earthbound aesthetic and incomprehensible pain as well as a faith that eludes definition as either ironic or sincere. Roche ’s posters, drawn from Super 8 film sequences, explore these themes in highly saturated imagery manipulated through film distortion and layering, video processing, and radical scale shifts. Throughout the exhibition, the failure to attain a true transcendence of spirit was omnipresent; the body from which this expression was uttered continually betrayed the ecstatic witnessing that Roche portrayed.

Black Iron Vatican was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2008 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago
series.

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

Black Iron Vatican is supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago; and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2008 At the Edge projects: John Arndt (artist), Monica Haslip (Director of Little Black Pearl), Kerry James Marshall (artist and former University of Illinois at Chicago faculty member), Stephanie Smith (Director and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum of Art), Lorelei Stewart (Director of Gallery 400) and Deborah Stratman (artist and University of Illinois at Chicago faculty member).

PRINT COLLATERAL

Postcard: Black Iron Vatican – Reception

Poster: Black Iron Vatican – Screening

MEDIA COVERAGE

Courson, Patricia. “Andy Roche: Black Iron Vatican.” flavorpill.com, Jan. 21, 2008.

Foumberg, Jason. “Test of Faith.” newcity.com, Feb. 7, 2008.

“UIC’s Gallery Gives Artists a Shot at the Big Time.” onehotmessblog.com, Feb. 21, 2008.

Stabler, Bert. “Black Iron Vatican.” TimeOut Chicago, Feb. 21, 2008.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Andy Roche touches on religion, politics, biography, travel, music, storytelling, performance, sex, avant-garde film tropes, documentary form, and more. Roche has said that he’s interested more in anecdotes than narratives. On the surface, Roche’s all-over-the-map approach and grungy, almost anti-aesthetic look might seem simply unfocused and too rambling, but the effect is cumulative, building to an ultimately deeper exploration of loneliness, despair, and life on the fringe. His films are persistently warm and human, and collectively present a remarkable take on political protest, psychedelic culture, and attempts at the sublime.

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Andy Roche

Announcing the Mysteries, 2007
Video, 18:17 min.

Black Iron Vatican, 2007
(projected on Power Door 1)
Video transferred from Super 8 film, 17:14 min., wood and paint

Black Slat Square, 2008
Duder Ecstacy (Martin), 2008
Hope Farm, 2008
Back of the Flag, 2008
MDF boards, hardware, and ink jet prints

Green Tambourine, 2008
Ink jet print

Power Door 2, 2008 with:
Fortitude, 2008
Circle, 2008
Wood and ink jet prints

Reason They Try / Reason They Stoned, 2008
Silkscreen on fabric

Tetedemort (on C
alvary Dread), 2006

Video transferred from Super 8 film, 18:23 min.

There are No Lutherans, 2008
Ink jet print

EXHIBITION ESSAY

Black Iron Vatican

With the exhibition Black Iron Vatican, Andy Roche develops an aesthetic examination of the Catholic left. In an installation of multiple video works and posters, Roche draws a relationship between the subjectivity expressed in the radical witnessing of Catholic leftists and the reverie of pop culture devotees holed up behind bedroom doors. Featuring elements of this, Roche’s first solo exhibition, includes a recitation of the rosary as a howling dub performance, images of nuclear warheads played like marimbas, the arrests that follow the annual protest trespass at Fort Benning, Georgia, and scenes of ecstatic collective protest.

The central piece, Black Iron Vatican, a 16 minute silent video, shifts through allusion and documentary toward evocative results. Opening with a scene of discussion, possibly religious testifying, the action quickly segues into found footage of the Hennessey sisters, famous siblings and Franciscan nuns from Dubuque, Iowa, long active in radical social activism. In 2001, Dorothy, at the time 88, and Gwen, at the time 68, were sentenced to six months each in federal prison for trespassing on Fort Benning’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly the School of the Americas), a base implicated in the training of Latin American paramilitary groups known for human rights abuses. Setting a foundation for issues of witnessing, surveillance, testifying, higher powers, and subterfuge, the Hennessey sisters imagery gives way to hammering hands and commences to a series of disconcerting intercuts, including recent footage of Fort Benning protests, that suture together the mundane and the fantastical as based in faith and body. In fleeting footage that is sometimes frenetic and sometimes elusive, even foreboding, the zone of trespass at Fort Benning is established. When one protestor, enacting her belief, quickly crosses that line, the force of her capture is felt through a long close-up shot. The fuzzy and faded exposures and focus of Black Iron Vatican recall the formal qualities of independent cinema as well as leftist guerilla filmmaking of the 60s and 70s, evoking questions about the position of the sites, activities, and aesthetics of contemporary protest as they have been influenced by established histories and practices.

Several other works in the exhibition, videos and posters, raise questions of disappointment, powerlessness, worship, and fellowship. One video work, Announcing the Mysteries (19 minutes), takes as its inspiration long-running Catholic Television programs featuring rosary recitation. The original typically featured soft focus and super-imposed edits with multiple camera angles trained on an idyllic youth in a lush landscape leading the rosary and slowly joined by others in his or her faith. In his self-performed work, Roche’s incantation is more guttural and ambiguous. Isolated in a rural landscape, his primal repetitions point toward an earthbound aesthetic and incomprehensible pain, as well as a faith that eludes definition as either ironic or sincere. Roche’s posters, drawn from Super 8 film sequences, explore these themes in highly saturated imagery manipulated through film distortion and layering, video processing, and radical scale shifts. Throughout the exhibition, the failure to attain a true transcendence of spirit is omnipresent; the body from which this expression is uttered continually betrays the ecstatic witnessing that Roche portrays.

****

Black Iron Vatican, January, 2008.

This essay was distributed in the gallery during the run of the exhibition.