Upon entering Weinberg/Newton Gallery, guests are told that they may interact with the objects — whether it be sifting through handmade pieces of paper printed with short phrases, paging through a small booklet made of magnets, turning the dial on a small radio, or listening to a mixtape, while perusing through their current exhibition, Return to the Everywhere.
In partnership with WBEZ Chicago, Weinberg Newton has produced several programs coinciding with Return to the Everywhere. Slated to run through April 4, events include a gathering of Vocalo DJs, “Vocalo ⏤ This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” and a workshop, “Coincidence Archive,” which invites guests to listen to live radio, past radio programs from the WBEZ Chicago archive. Return to the Everywhere is centered around “truth, fiction, objectivity, bias, and belief,” topics that have been thrust forward in modern-day media in our current “post-truth” society. Artists Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson, Jesse McLean, Sayward Schoonmaker, Sonnenzimmer, and Sadie Woods explore these notions through their multi-media works presented.
Accompanying the exhibition is a “sonic exploration” curated by artist and DJ Sadie Woods called “It Was A Rebellion” which combines music from the Civil Rights Era, news reports, speeches, ephemera, and symbolic sounds, exploring what Woods refers to as “the public expression of black rage.” The mixtape opens with audio from Dorothy Tucker’s coverage of the 1968 Chicago Riots and is interspersed with songs from J Dilla, Donny Hathaway’s poetry, Amiri Baraka’s “It’s Nation Time,” and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Rebellion” is the perfect soundtrack to interact with Sayward Schoonmaker’s piece, “Authoritative Forms,” which consists of handmade watermarked papers in hues of black, white and grey, featuring snippets of text from John Berger, James Schuyler, and Hito Steyerl. Schoonmaker’s statement explains that she “often begins with questions of how words, materials, and structures inform—or construct — ways of seeing and being,” which speaks to the theme of the exhibition relating to information and language transfer. The texts say phrases in all caps including “LOVE IS THE METRIC,” PERMEABLE PREAMBLE,” or “THE TENDER.” Leaning towards abstraction, the texts must be held up to a light source to be read clearly. Schoonmaker’s reference to Steyerl is obvious; her essay, “In Defense of the Poor Image,” breaks down how images over time have been manipulated, distorted, reproduced and repackaged until they no longer hold the same meaning or value.
“Um Radio” by Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson is an amalgamation of snippets from WBEZ radio interviews dating back to 1987. The recordings convey how language and cadence are used when reporting on sensitive events. Visitors have the control to swap channels themselves, and each recording is labeled with a date and event. The most notable recordings come from August 29, 2018: The Laquan McDonald murder charges and hearings for Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke are being discussed. Strikingly, the word “um” is uttered more often than in any of the other tapings.
The exhibition even digs into some of the earliest WBEZ audio broadcasts, spanning from 1949-1952. The WBEZ Radio Council Recordings for Chicago Public Schools, formed in 1937 long before WBEZ officially went on air in 1943, consists of a series of six framed transcription disks featuring children’s educational programming, like English III and IV, radio dramas like “Divided We Stand,” from the Jeffersonian Heritage Series, and classical music appreciation. These recordings were aired in classrooms and later discontinued because of the fragile nature of the discs.
Jesse Mclean’s video,” Relations,” speaks to the now: the now of confusion and questioning of trust. “Relations” is a looping video of a spinning newspaper going so fast the words are indecipherable until the newspaper comes to a halt and you are able to read the headline: “First Line to Last; A Tissue of Horrors. Purpose of Press Opposite of What Supposed; Readers Admit to Not Trusting ‘Objective’ Media But Still Believing In It.”
If anything, what the exhibition clearly shows is how the media and its purpose has evolved over time. From the early forms of being used to educate, to inform the public, to propaganda, and then to question the very purpose it was derived from. The important thing to remember, like with journalism and media, is to remain objective, which is very much like that of art.