MCA Talk: January Parkos Arnall

Feature photo by Braxton Black for Jeremy Lawson Photography

Tonight, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago kicks off this season’s exciting Art Talk series by welcoming Solange Knowles and Britt Julious. The former has been in the contemporary art scene for some time in a variety of capacities, has lectured all around the country, released one of the baddest albums of last year, and has a sister that might do music too; I’m not one hundred percent. The latter writes regularly for the Chicago Tribune, Esquire, and Vice, among others. It ensures to be an enriching and illuminative experience.

We chatted a bit with the MCA’s curator of public programs, January Parkos Arnall, to gain some insight into Art Talks, the importance of dialogue among community, artists, and institutions, and how connecting all the dots makes it merrier for more!

In your piece for Medium last year, “No one is asking for it: Reflections on Multilingüelandia, a Public Engagement residency with Antena and Antena Los Ángeles,” you explore language justice and barriers that sometimes inhibit the interpretation for people who don’t speak the same language. Do you think this concept extends into the world of contemporary art by bringing in musicians utilizing a “different language,” so to speak for MCA Talks?

It has always been a priority for me to provide a range of access points in the museum for diverse visitorships. In large part this means using programming to speak the language of our visitors, both culturally and literally. The extraordinary artists featured in our In Sight Out series practice at the intersections of contemporary art and music and bring a breadth of experience that speaks to our audience in different ways than our other programs, performances, and exhibitions. Our hope is to create public programs that welcome and reflect the interests of our broad audiences and expand the notion of contemporary art practice.

Photo by Nathan Keay

What do you have planned for this series?

Over the last two years, in partnership with Pitchfork, we have designed a set of intimate experiences with artists whose work we feel speaks to the concerns and experiences of a contemporary art audience. This fall we are thrilled to welcome Solange, Vince Staples, and Chance the Rapper to the museum.

How did you decide to bring in Solange, Vince Staples, and hometown hero Chance the Rapper?

We work closely with our colleagues at Pitchfork to determine a list of artists whose work reflects the goals of the In Sight Out series and this year through the determination of these colleagues we have been able to secure a dream lineup of people who have been on our wish list for years. These three artists each project through their writing and music a deep sense of the current cultural and political climate in our country and create works that resonate deeply with listeners. In addition, we are eager to give these artists a platform to discuss their work outside of the traditional recording arts including Solange’s works at the intersection of choreography, performance, and visual art; Vince Staples’s poetic phrasing and lyricality; and Chance the Rapper’s incredible commitment to community practice.

First up, Solange. She sort of broke out musically last year with A Seat at the Table, but she’s been speaking and lecturing prolifically all around the country for awhile. What does she bring “to the table” (sorry) that sets her apart from most speakers you’ve encountered?

While she is best known perhaps as a writer, choreographer, and recording artist, Solange has been involved in contemporary visual art for many years and has recently expanded her practice to include museum-based visual and performance art works. Learning more about her trajectory as an artist will be of great interest to our audience.

Who are your favorite contemporary artists of today? Who is currently speaking to you the loudest?

There are so many wonderful artists working today, and as a new transplant to Chicago I am greatly enjoying getting to know the community here. I am primarily drawn to artists working within public practice, or work that holds social interaction and civic responsibility at its core and encourages a dialogue between artist, audience, and the institution. I hate to name just a few but certainly Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle is an artist based in L.A. whose work I feel epitomizes this sentiment. Here in Chicago I have been drawn to the work of Brendan Fernandes and I am looking forward to including his work Art by Snapchat in the MCA’s upcoming MCA <3 Chicago, our 50th anniversary celebration. In addition I am currently working with Edra Soto, a Chicago-based artist whose work Open 24 Hours, will be our inaugural artist project in the museum’s new civic engagement space, The Commons.

Take us through a day in the life of the MCA’s Curator of Public Programs…

Still new to this job, one of my key objectives each day is just not to get lost in the offices of the MCA! Really, I am incredibly lucky to spend a lot of my time talking with artists and making plans for programs, performances, and engagement-oriented projects to take place on-site here at the museum. In this job I also rely on the collaboration of many colleagues throughout the museum to produce these projects and programs and so I am often found running around the offices checking in with other departments.

What do you have planned or in the works for your inaugural season at the MCA?

In October our eagerly anticipated civic engagement space, The Commons, will be unveiled and the inaugural artist project by Edra Soto will be installed. Along with her installation, Edra has organized a tremendous series of public programs for Friday nights that will all be free and open to the public and will ask audiences to consider their roles within their larger communities. In addition, we are initiating In Progress, a new Tuesday night series that will give audiences a glimpse into the working processes of artists while likewise providing a platform for Chicago artists to develop new works. We are also exploring ideas around intergenerational learning in museums, starting with Paul Irving, director of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. Other public programs include artist talks and tours as well as a reprise of Michael Rakowitz’s Enemy Kitchen, a project that explores the relationship between hostility and hospitality with Iraq War Vets serving traditional dishes prepared by Iraqi chefs.