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Columbia College Chicago
Adam Brooks
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Adam Brooks

Brooks is happiest when there is a healthy dialogue between he and his students, and says, “I welcome dissent and encourage it.”

Adam Brooks

Written by Jennifer Tatum-Cotamagana, Nonfiction MFA
Photography by Greg Stimac, Photo BFA 2005

Adam Brooks cites “a shared experience” of football (kicking the ball as opposed to throwing it) as to what sparked an artistic partnership between him and his collaborative partner Mathew Wilson and their on-going project, “Industry of the Ordinary.” A recent action, “Two Heads, One Goal” was performed on the steps of the Museum of Contemporary Art, where participants played a game of football, kicking heavy-duty industrial resin casts of Brooks’ and Wilson’s heads down the steps of the MCA, a “representation of the self out there to be kicked around.”

Brooks’ approach to performance art, at first glance, seems to be theatrical, when in fact, he prefers to create work that “people don’t perceive as performance or theatrical work at all,” but instead deals with an “accidental audience,” one that absorbs the work into the flow of their everyday experience and then hopefully looks back on and thinks about what they have experienced.

Brooks was recently awarded the 2011-2013 Distinguished Artist Award from Columbia College. During this time, he will be preparing for an “Industry of the Ordinary” show at the Cultural Center, which will run from August 2012 through February 2013.

He has thirty plus years of experience making art in the studio and out on the streets. His work engages with the everyday and the mundane. He says that his "earlier work, prior to ‘Industry of the Ordinary’ was interested in the combination of object and text” and “examin[ing] the tangible, the things that we find, as objects in the world, and the way we attempt to describe, classify, organize and understand those things through the overt use of language.” In the piece “BYOB,” from 1994, Brooks sandblasted sixty Budweiser bottles with slang terms for the word “drunk,” using an ordinary, everyday object and “imposing language on it,” as a way to press against the meaning of words and to combine object and text. This approach has continued into some of the projects produced for “Industry of the Ordinary.”

Brooks teaches studio classes, as well as classes that are largely about the strategies of art making, which center on the idea of the dematerialization of the art object—that an object doesn’t have to be the final product. This is a fairly new concept and can be a frustrating concept for someone who is used to producing a painting or a sculpture. As an instructor, he realizes that his students are artists and that they have a certain “measure of intuition [that] can’t be pinned down,” but he strongly believes that “you can’t just say, ‘Well, this is what I do.’" He requires his students to be able “to articulate their ideas” and to “think through the progression of their work from start to finish.”

Brooks is happiest when there is a healthy dialogue between he and his students, and says, “I welcome dissent and encourage it.” He also values the extension of the classroom into professional practice and has worked with many students on various projects for “Industry of the Ordinary.”

His parents taught him about an artistic dialogue outside of the formal education classroom, by taking him to museums at a young age. He aims to do this for his students and one of his main goals is to “give artists in training the tools to be able to become self-sufficient” and to “become participants in multiple dialogues, in multiple areas, not just in Chicago, but nationally and internationally.” He stresses the importance of being flexible and creative and even in the beginning stages, at Open House, when students are just prospects, he tells them that there is no job waiting out there for an undergraduate with a degree in fine arts. He teaches his students to be resourceful and to know that they will most likely have to make compromises in their life, that to find the balance between your life and your art is “tricky.” About the balance between personal and professional he says “you have to be dedicated, but you also have to be realistic.”

These words may sound harsh, but at the core, they are meant to educate and to bring about awareness, which at the core of his teaching and his artwork seems to be Adam Brooks’ goal—the work that students create must be purposeful, thought-provoking and can’t just be art for art’s sake.