Chicago-based Canadian artist David Hartts latest work, Stray Light, inaugurates the MCA Screen, a new series of media-based exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
. Hartts films capture the social, cultural, political, and economic complexities of his subjects, which he then renders with a cool, dispassionate eye. His latest subject is the former Johnson Publishing Company building on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, famous for producing Jet and Ebony magazines and as a leader in African-American taste and culture. Stray Light includes a film displayed in a gallery with a carpet designed to evoke the Johnson Publishing Company, as well as a group of photographs in an adjacent gallery. MCA Screen: David Hartt is curated by James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator Michael Darling and runs through April 29, 2012.
Hartt records the time-capsule nature of the Johnson Publishing Company space, with its original 1971 interior design by Arthur Elrod. John Moutoussamy, an African-American partner in the firm Dubin, Dubin, Black & Moutoussamy, designed the 11-story building as the headquarters of the Johnson Publishing Company, with an iconic presence on Michigan Avenue with its illuminated Ebony-Jet marquee at the top. The interior of the building is modern, colorful, and complex, an expression of founder John Johnsons vision of what a leading, black-owned business could be.
The title of the project, Stray Light, is a term used to refer to unpredictable light within a controlled environment. It is also a fitting metaphor for Hartt as an outside observer of a company that has influenced so much of African-American cultural history. His film and photographs provide an intimate portrait of the dreams and ideals of the Johnson familys business which continue under the leadership of the founders daughter, Linda Johnson Rice. Stray Light is, in fact, the final means to capture the essence of the building, after the unexpected news that the building was sold in late 2010 and the company has relocated to another site. Thus, Hartts film is a lasting document of the style and ethos of this unique work environment.
The soundtrack for the 12-minute Stray Light film is created by Chicago composer and flutist Nicole Mitchell. Mitchell is co-president of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an organization that, like the Johnson Publishing Company building, was created in the 1970s and has become a leader in the cultural community.