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Studio Visit with Industry of the Ordinary

Recently I visited the Chicago studio of Industry of the Ordinary, a collaborative duo comprising artists Mat Wilson and Adam Brooks. A few years ago I reviewed their big show at the Chicago Cultural Center for Hyperallergic (link here). Rereading that review, I think I did a not-bad job of capturing in a condensed piece of writing what their work is about. When I spoke to them yesterday, I tried to get a sense of their histories, both personal and artistic, in a conversation that lasted well over an hour.

Adam Brooks (l) and Mat Wilson (r). Photo: Philip Hartigan
Rather than try and describe the conversation sequentially, I'm just going to provide bullet points of the main topics:

Being British in America: Wilson was born in the UK and has lived in the USA for more than 20 years, Brooks is a US citizen who spent his formative years in England. I'm also an Englishman who's lived in the US for 14 years. Would any of us return to live in England? Does the English class system still exist? Would the green card holders in the room convert to citizens? Is it easier to watch English football nowadays in the United States?

Football: That's proper football, by the way, not American Throwball. There was a Manchester United supporter, a Leeds United supporter, and an Arsenal supporter in the room. I won't shame anyone by saying who supports which. Let's just say that the spirits of Billy Bremner, George Best, and Charlie George were tangibly present in the air.

What is performance art: Well, first of all it's not what IOTO do. In their words, their work is more sculptural performance, or performative sculpture. Talked about their affinities with Situationist Art, or Relational Asethetics, and narrowing the distance between observer and the gesture to the point where it can be so close that the observer may not be aware at first that they are witnessing 'art'.

Humour in art: Something that breaks the ice with the receiver (spectator, viewer), but which isn't all that the gesture or performance or piece consists of. Humour, particularly the joshing, ragging, bantering style of English humour, being a component that keeps two long-time collaborators going. That, and beer.

Beer: IOTO's first meeting involved simultaneously volunteering to go on a beer run at a party that had tragically run dry. I won't say what happened next, but clearly it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Also, their studio fridge has Stella Artois in it.

Collaboration: Their process is not studio-based as such, though we were talking inside a white box with big windows along one side that looks like a classic artists' studio. They email ideas for projects back and forth to each other, some of which can happen fairly quickly (as in 2004, a year after they began working together, when they tried to create more than 10 ideas/happenings in the space of a month), and others which might take years to come to fruition.

Chamber Gallery, Milwaukee. Photo: Kyle Seis/Chamber.
Currently working on: a public art project in the UK, an upcoming show in Chicago. And their work can be seen for the next few weeks at Chamber Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (3023 North Bremen, Milwaukee 53212).

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