Madison Revealed

Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, PTG.0312 Civilization (Cities) / Citizens and communities of Madison, WI, 2014-15. Acrylic on linen, 8 x 16 feet. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, funded by Holly Cremer Berkenstadt.

Madison Revealed

A discussion with artists Heather and Eric ChanSchatz
By Rachel Werner

WORLD-RENOWNED ARTISTS ERIC AND HEATHER CHANSCHATZ’S interactive visual composition is the most recent addition to MMoCA’s permanent collection. The large-scale abstraction encapsulates the yearlong creation of an artwork reflecting 14 main Madison communities struggling to be seen and often in contrast, yet held together in the same plane. Amid it all is a search for harmony.

In a sit-down interview, the artists provide a glimpse into their creative process and residency at the museum:

1) How did you select Madison for your next conceptual representation?

Heather: Although we have been fascinated by cities for a long time, Madison really resonated with us as a place where we could accomplish the intimacy we have had with other populations we have depicted. We also feel as though the three advantage points the city possesses—being in the Midwest, a capital city and a university town—make it the quintessential American place.

2) Based on the selection surveys that influenced the visual elements incorporated in the final composition, what are your impressions of the local community?

Eric: From the beginning, the enthusiasm around the project—and our presence here—has been overwhelming and very exciting! Survey respondents honestly shared the impact the city has on their lives. Overall, Heather and I feel this led to all the components translating onto the canvas; that organic symbiosis of how each citizen’s story overlaps and affects another.

3) Elaborate on the painting’s underlying themes.

Heather: Abstract art is wonderful at translating a macro-narrative. Even in the midst of such pain as the Tony Robinson shooting, Madison is working hard at holding together. Despite stark differences and strong disagreements, the residents continue to be united by a desire for balance.

4) Is there one “take away message” to the composition and the companion almanacs as whole?

Eric: Although upon first glimpse the Madison work may seem complex, the painting and the almanacs (that contain the surveys that steered our creative process) are more interwoven. Viewers will find their own entry points into the abstraction since the alternating layers and dimensions call out to individuals in a myriad of ways. We do not see the piece as “finished”, but still in progress as the beginning of a conversation about shaping rituals and a story to be followed. Like the city, the piece will live on.

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