As a college of art and design, almost everything we do at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has a primarily visual aspect. However, anyone who has had a significant encounter with contemporary art knows it is about more than sight. The warm humidity of an Apichatpong Weerasethakul (MFA 1998, HON 2011) film, the metallic tang of a silverpoint by Crown Family Professor of Painting and Drawing Michelle Grabner, the earthen redolence of black soap and shea butter in a Rashid Johnson (SAIC 2003–04, HON 2018) collage, and the percussive fibrousness of bound hair in a work by Professor Anne Wilson each remind us how art and design can engage all of our senses.
This issue of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago magazine explores the poetic and visceral experience of the senses in making and viewing art. Just as all of our senses are delighted as audience members, the makers of art and design must marshal all of their senses to produce their work. Faculty and alums who make sound art, mix perfume, explore architecture and landscape through the senses, and work with people whose disabilities limit their sensory perception are profiled in this issue. And for our main course, “The Medium is the Menu,” we take an in-depth look at those working in food and drink, including Arthur Hon (SAIC 1999– 2004), who was recently named Sommelier of the Year by Food and Wine magazine and is pictured on our cover.
Also included is the work of 2018 MacArthur Fellowship recipient Wu Tsang (BFA 2004). Along with 2015 recipient Professor LaToya Ruby Frazier and 2017 recipient Trevor Paglen (MFA 2002), Tsang is the third member of the SAIC community to receive the “genius” grant in four years! Tsang’s work in performance and video finds fluid identities in the corporeal sensation of nightclubbing, casting the discotheque as a space to meditate upon the intersections of self and others. In this way, Tsang’s work belies the fallacy that the biological and the intellectual are discrete zones of activity. As a site of contemplation that is accessed through engaging the senses, art demonstrates that what we think and what we feel are indivisible. This capacity for art to communicate ideas through sensation evokes one of the School’s core values, “meaning and making are inseparable,” and underscores, as do the stories in this issue, art’s power to shape our experience of the world.
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