Michael x. Ryan has been stalking himself for many years. Like an anthropologist in the field, Ryan has charted his lines of movement in and throughout the cities of Chicago, Manhattan, and Krems, Austria. The products of Ryan’s pursuits usually take on the form of scientific documentation such as statistical charts or maps. In these maps one can see the spider web-like lineaments set to catch himself amongst city blocks and traffic routes. Ryan’s stalking method isn’t a split-identity detective story but is actually the artist’s attempt at realizing the interconnectedness of bodies and places. Partly an expression of the numbing routine of our diurnal existence, the path drawn from work to home, multiplied by a million, also quite unexpectedly lends itself to mystical insights. Ritual, or the constant repetition of an action, forms the basis of many religious practices. Ryan’s walking is like the ghost that animates the machine – the city is a well-maintained body; its inhabitants are the city’s soul.
Ryan has been mapping his encounters with the city since making Chicago his home in the early 1980s. The 51-year-old artist has become a Chicago mainstay mostly because the city has been the main object of his attention. Although Ryan has, for now, moved on from mapping to a new body of work, he continues his interest in finding and collecting the patterns that constitute the human mark. Stains on the sidewalk have been speaking to him, activating his mind’s psychic sense of materials. The collected stains are made manifest as ghost-like tomb constructions, painted to match the walls – desiring to be invisible yet fully present. Beer or milkshake puddles have been traced and transferred to wood. Like vitrines in a natural history museum, the ephemeral marks of life are embalmed and magnificently re-presented as art objects. Yet these are also altars that, in their granting of presence to the immaterial, deify the sidewalk stains; once dirt, now lightning bolts.
When he worked in the conservation department of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ryan learned not only the practical skills of carpentry but also how artists can direct creative and mindful energy into an object. Now, for Ryan, the everyday is invigorated, as enlightening as it is overlooked.
Published in Newcity (March 6, 2007)