Month: August 2018

Emerging Community Challenges around Incarceration with Free Write and Restorative Justice Community Court

Surveillance, criminalization, and budget cuts to public services impact communities, environmental contexts, policies, and institutions. These issues affect social needs and challenge community-oriented responses to political issues. All these factors collide in our carceral systems at both personal and society-wide levels, and contribute to recidivism. Communities continue to question and to seek solutions and alternatives beyond state-driven mechanisms. Recently in Chicago, many of the direct actions and conversations at the community, local, and state levels have been related to systemic injustices. Immigration enforcement, budget cuts to mental health services, and surging violence’s purported connection to the morals of black and brown communities, funding allocated to policing within the county have been a few of the topics at the forefront of debate. Located in Cook County, Free Write Arts & Literacy and the Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) offer two community-oriented approaches at the intersections of re-entry and incarceration. Both organizations attempt to mitigate the effects of detainment for incarceration-affected youth and adults through creative programming and peace circles which center the harm done from non-violent crimes on …

Alok Vaid-Menon: Femme in Public, Now

Alok Vaid-Menon is not from the future. Known for their hyper-saturated style, incisive writing, and personal poetry-meets-cultural criticism-meets-(so funny) stand up performance art, Vaid-Menon is very much the gender-nonconforming femme icon of this moment, and one we truly deserve. Their unmissable swagger, well chronicled on their popular Instagram (126k followers and counting) is not just personal, but highly political. Sixty had a chance to sit down to chat with Vaid-Menon about breaking the rules of style and all the binaries before the sold-out performance of their international touring show, Femme in Public, at AMFM Gallery in June. The show was opened by LaSaia Wade, founder and Executive director of Brave Space Alliance, the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ center located on the South Side of Chicago. While Vaid-Menon might be of this time, like any true visionary, their work opens up a space, or “cracks” as they call it, to imagine and inhabit a different kind of world and existence – one where anyone, but particularly femmes, and especially femmes of color, can inhabit any space without …

Cruising the Archives: Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library and Archives

“Often by chance, via out-of-the-way card catalogues, or through previous web surfing, a particular ‘deep’ text, or a simple object (bobbin, sampler, scrap of lace) reveals itself here at the surface of the visible, by mystic documentary telepathy. Quickly — precariously — coming as it does from an opposite direction. If you are lucky, you may experience a moment before.” — Susan Howe, “The Telepathy of Archives” This past February, an initiative to pull books containing “LGBTQ content” from a public library swept through Orange City, Iowa. While the campaign wasn’t successful, its intentions remain the stuff of relatively recent Midwestern history. This is to say that when the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives was founded in 1981, patrons couldn’t necessarily count on finding their own experiences and narratives reflected in the shelves of public libraries — while queer content might not have been explicitly banned, it was certainly a blind spot in most mainstream collections. Named after Henry Gerber (founder of the first American gay rights association incorporated in Illinois) and Pearl Hart (one of Chicago’s …

“Prisoners Are Always Resisting”: The 2018 Prison Strike

Children’s laughter bounced off the walls of the Co-Prosperity Sphere gallery as a group of about 40 people gathered for a “Day of Solidarity” on August 4 in support of an upcoming national prison strike. All afternoon, people filtered in and out as organizers from Milwaukee to Oaxaca spoke, supporting organizations sold t-shirts and zines to fund strikers’ commissary, volunteers at a letter-writing station matched attendees with incarcerated pen pals, and musicians performed. The strike, set to begin August 21 and end September 9, was called for by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates. After a riot at Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina left seven inmates dead in April of this year, the group decided that they could no longer wait for the ideal conditions for a strike, as these kinds of tragedies would keep happening unless prisoners worked together. In an August 11 statement, the group wrote, “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. We know that our conditions are causing physical harm and deaths that could be …

Life and Design Style: An Interview with Margot Harrington

Margot Harrington is a designer, but even as I write that statement it seems inadequate. While she has worked on and led projects centered around shaping websites, creating brands, dreaming up site-specific installations, and composing publications, the way she speaks of her work makes it clear that her design practice isn’t simply an occupation–it’s a lifestyle. Starting from her days growing up in a word and image-loving family in Minnesota, to now being a freelance designer with her company Pitch Union Design, an art director for Bitch Media, and a multidisciplinary artist, Margot’s design style has been developing and evolving in quiet and significant ways since before she was even exploring the question of what her lifework would be. Given the fact that she is an artist with a wide practice that collides with a mix of experiences and influences, our conversation touched on a range of topics. We discussed everything from the ways we stumble magnificently in order to discover what does and doesn’t work for our lives, to the importance of eastern medicine and self-preservation …

This image depicts part of a performance score, bound into a thin book. On the top page, toward its bottom-right corner, it reads “Dear Corey: Unfold (into you)” in black ink on grey paper. Across the binding, on the bottom page—the majority of the image—text, lines, arrows, and shapes appear in black ink against a whitish vellum background. Solid black abstract shapes connect and overlap, creating white space where they overlap. Lines swoop, loop, and change direction, and some end in arrowheads. Text appears in different sizes and spatial orientations (e.g., right-side up, upside-down, diagonal, vertical, and organic shapes), with some words/phrases expanded in space, condensed, or intersecting with other text.

Beyond the Page: Udita Upadhyaya’s “nevernotmusic” (the book in progress)

“Beyond the Page” digs into the process and practice of writers and artists who work at the intersection of literary arts and other fields. This interview is the second of three with interdisciplinary artist Udita Upadhyaya about “nevernotmusic” — a solo exhibition of scores activated by curated, collaborative performances — and her process of developing these scores into a book (read the first interview here and the third here). In late May, I met with Udita to discuss the book’s first mock-up, her aesthetic choices and decision-making process, and the role of intimacy, the body, and language in her work. Follow @uditau on Twitter and Instagram and check out her book launch at TriTriangle on September 8, 2018, 7 pm. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.   Marya Spont-Lemus: So, you made a book! Udita Upadhyaya: Yeah. This is not what it’s going to look like but this is the first mock-up with real pages of the scores and some of the color and stuff being decided. MSL: Wow. Can I look …

People in attendance at open community event stand with arms raised participating in a community dance.

Just A Guy In A Suit: How Circles & Ciphers Resolves Conflict With Radical Hospitality

In the fall of 2017, I began attending Rogers Park Community Peace Circle as outreach for the Kola Nut Collaborative, a timebanking initiative where people trade skills and services using time as a currency. While I had participated in other spaces employing circle facilitation, the Community Peace Circle enriched my understanding of some basic rituals associated with circle keeping including lighting a candle, introducing talking pieces, and building shared values to be held during the circle. It would be several more months before I would realize the relationship between Circles & Ciphers and the Community Peace Circle as each entity re-formed and merged under a new mission statement. This mission explains that, “Circles & Ciphers is a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people impacted by violence. Through art-based peace circles, education, and direct action we collectively heal and work to bring about the abolition of the prison-industrial complex.” While the name struck me as familiar, I was unclear about Circles & Ciphers’ history, use of peace circle facilitation or desired outcomes for …

Lakshmi Ramgopal’s “A Half-Light Chorus”

As I’m nestled between the drapes of lush green fronds in the Fern Room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, I become aware of the ambient sounds. I hear the steady trickle of nearby water and the bird calls that fill the space. As I wait for the afternoon performance to start, the bird calls begin to demand a bit more of my attention. I hear what sounds like a whistle and then what sounds like a human call. Then, clicking, brief pauses, more clicking, and suddenly a layer of bird calls that begin to sound more and more human as the moments pass, all followed by what I’m sure is a human sound. Click. Pause. Bird call? Chirp. No, definitely a human call. Wail. Human call. Pause. As I become more aware of the presence of the piece, Lakshmi Ramgopal and her ensemble, clad in all white, take their places for the final performance for this installation. This environmental soundscape, which feels simultaneously personal and celestial, is Lakshmi Ramgopal’s installation “A Half Light Chorus” at the Lincoln Park Conservatory as part of …

Whose Visions? Introducing the Envisioning Justice Residency

“On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives.” -Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? Sitting in the heart of the Chicago South Loop is the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison less than a mile from Grant Park. Every day, thousands of people walking to work, class, the Art Institute, or even a festival like Lollapalooza are unknowingly passing 663 people awaiting trial or serving out their prison sentences. Envisioning Justice, a two-year initiative organized by Illinois Humanities, aims to spur a “citywide conversation about the impact of incarceration in local communities.” To this end, Envisioning Justice was awarded $1,500,000 by the MacArthur Foundation as part of its Safety and Justice Challenge, which “seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about …

Poetry Series: Therefore We Can Be Free (Part 1)

“The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet- whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free” —Audre Lorde, from Poetry is Not a Luxury I aim to write a series of poems centered on the real and imagined landscapes of Chicago. While poetry isn’t often thought of as news, poems, more than anything, describe the truth of the world around us. While truth can come out of diligent and factual reporting, it can also be revealed by a few honest words that intimately and imaginatively give language to the unseeable pain and joy present in Chicago. There is so much more to Chicago than the fact of it and its events, there are universes of feelings that come out of the landscape we live in that break the bounds of reality. MY MOTHER SPEAKS TO CHICAGO SUMMERS Next poem….

In the Realm of Senses and the Pleasure of Eating with Music

Before Jeff Yang takes the stage, someone behind me says to a friend, “What you’re about to experience is like nothing else … it’s remarkable.” I don’t really know what I’m about to expect. I came to the event alone, my partner had to work, and I have an irrational fear of interactive events. I’m going into the night without many expectations. I received an email about a week or so in advance inviting me to In The Realm of Senses: Pictures at an Exhibition Fundraiser, and of course, I read the pamphlet — food, drinks, sense, scent, taste, music, sound — but I wasn’t sure how it would be exhibited, how the audience would be involved, and how I would react. All of the senses are familiar as simple words but existing together, and depending on one another, was something I had not experienced. I was nervous. Behind Yang hangs the work of Maja Bosen, an installation artist, whose pieces hang delicately from the ceiling on the back and left hand side of the stage. Yang …