Month: December 2018

Chicago Archives + Artists Project: Artist Profile on Aay Preston-Myint

The Chicago Archives + Artists Project (CA+AP) is an initiative that highlights Chicago archives and special collections that give space to voices on the margins of history. Led by Chicago-based writers and artists, the project explores archives across the city via online features, a series of public programs and new commissioned artwork by Chicago artists. For 2018, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has funded a series of pilot projects pairing three artists with three archives around the city: Media Burn + Ivan LOZANO, the Leather Archives & Museum + Aay Preston-Myint, and the Newberry Library’s Chicago Protest Collection + H. Melt. This series of articles profiles these featured archives and artists over the course of their collaboration, exploring the vital role of the archive in preserving and interpreting the stories of our city as well as the ways in which they can be a resource for creatives in the community.  In the Leather Archives exhibition, Aay Preston-Myint exhibited their work Dirt/Work, which illustrates the archival process of leather culture. The artist writes, “Archives are one of many …

Whatever You Think I Am, I’m Not – Out of Easy Reach Review

“Art can make a difference because it pulls people up short. [Art] says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself” – Jeanette Winterson1 Ayanah Moor’s Good News makes me smile. It was the first thing I saw walking into the “Out of Easy Reach” exhibit at the DePaul Art Museum this summer. A grid of eight-by-three screen printed sheets of paper showing cream colored text set against a black background. The first reads, “Chicago: Chicago has a lot of professional Black women. But a lot of the women just don’t have their heads together. They try to be professional, but they forget that it takes a well-rounded life to be happy. – Danielle Thomas.” 23 more sheets list women’s candid remarks on the dating scene for women loving women in different cities across the U.S. Instantly there is a sense of a queer satire — taking the viewer’s knowledge (physical, visual, and sensual) of relationships and sex and gender, and transforming them. The …

Inside the Just Art Program at Cook County Jail

Across the U.S., 2.3 million people are being held in correctional facilities. Around 536,000 of them are being detained pretrial—more than most countries have in their jails and prisons combined. And as much as our prison population swells with people serving life sentences, shorter-term pretrial detention, and the architectures and logics that come with it, are distinctly American. Cook County Jail’s brutalist facility looms over 96 acres of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. It is the largest single-site jail in the country. In 1985, the average daily population was about 5,000. By 2012, that number had nearly doubled. An estimated 90 percent of those incarcerated at Cook County Jail have not been convicted of a crime but are being held in pretrial detention, often because they can’t afford to pay the bond set during their pretrial hearing. Late last year, after Chief Judge Timothy Evans ordered court judges to set bail only in amounts defendants could afford, the average bond amount in Cook County fell by over 80 percent, from nearly $134,000 in 2016 to $22,000 …

Kranky Celebrates 25 Years of Ambient Music in a Chapel

I was three years old when Kranky, the ambient music label, was founded in Chicago. In my late teens and early twenties, Kranky was vital to my auditory taste. The label, primarily focusing on ambient, electronic, or psychedelic music, introduced me to Deerhunter, Stars of Lid, Justin Walter, and The Dead Texan. My youth was spent through a spiral of gazing up towards my ceiling, or driving down dark North Carolina roads while listening to Labradford’s album, Prazision. So it’s only natural that Kranky would celebrate their 25th Anniversary at the Rockefeller Chapel in Hyde Park with a line up that brings you closer to god, or stillness, or clarity, or whatever brings you solace in a stained-glass building on wooden benches. Ambient Church is a nomadic event that traveled to Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago and New York, with various different performers in each location. In Chicago, we were welcomed by Matt Jencik, Justin Walter, Pan•American, and Steve Hauschildt. It’s a 25 minute walk from my apartment to the Rockefeller Chapel, a hub for me …

Community Art for Art’s Sake: A Conversation with Open Center for the Arts in Little Village

At Open Center for the Arts in Little Village, the focus is not on enacting social justice buzzwords like “youth diversion,” “community intervention,” or “artivism.” Instead, Open Center staff are working hard to build capacity for positive change in their neighborhood by modeling progressive values for the young people they mentor and serve. Earlier this year, I spoke with four of Open Center’s instructors and art practitioners and one student intern to learn about how each of them is envisioning justice in Little Village as well as how they view their own roles as artists within the ecosystem of direct service youth development and community organizing. Folks at the table included Executive Director J. Omar Magana, Envisioning Justice Hub Director Gabriela Juarez, Theater Instructor Luis Crespo, Film & Video Instructor Essau Menendez, and Theater Assistant & Student Jose Blanco This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Anjali Misra: Luis – as Theater Director, what do you oversee? Luis Crespo: I oversee the youth program and that’s working with the young people to use …

Intimate Justice: Oscar Chavez

 “Intimate Justice” looks at the intersection of art and sex and how these actions intertwine to serve as a form of resistance, activism, and dialogue in the Chicago community. For this installment, we talked to Oscar Chavez in Pilsen about internet trends, the body as a commodity, and tube tops.  This interview was edited for length and clarity.  S. Nicole Lane: Where are you originally from and how did you get to Chicago? Oscar Chavez: Born and raised in Chicago actually. I am from the South Side. So, I grew up in the South Side. I definitely don’t wanna stay in Chicago. But I think being a young artist in Chicago is amazing and there are so many benefits that you can work with. SNL : How has Pilsen community contributed to your practice? OC: I mean, I just moved here so I am still exploring. I moved a block from Textile Discount Outlet which has really been turning me up. I am there every morning and have been sewing so much. So that’s been a huge effect …

If You Want to Watch, You Can Watch: A Conversation with Multimedia Artist Heather Raquel Phillips

In Heather Raquel Phillips’ videos we are so very close. But we rarely get the full picture. Instead, we sense our way. We feel what we are meant to know, despite, or because of, the ambiguity. It is familiar, yet private. We cannot, would not, transpose ourselves onto or into another’s moment. But we watch, transfixed, sometimes trapped up close, sometimes lingering, our desires holding us rapt. Eyes closed, a grimace, then a small smile, as someone takes an electric clipper to another’s head and shaves it clean. Eyes closed, relaxed, stroking hair to the lull of R&B. The gentle touch of a manicured hand against the neck, the other confidently guiding the razor along the scalp. They bend forward as the razor tickles the nape, moving with the grain of their body in response to another’s structured guidance. Tongues ecstatically licking lips, devouring in anticipatory delight. Bodies gleeful with expectation, awaiting their punishment. Phillips, a mixed race artist living and working in Philadelphia, explores the intersections of race, class, gender & sexuality through the …

The Right to Heal: An Interview with Artist & Activist bria royal

bria royal is a 24-year-old multidisciplinary artist from the West side of Chicago. bria’s work often deals with Black and Indigenous mythologies, ecofeminism and futurist possibilities. In 2017, she released a graphic novel titled Black Girl Mania which fuses science fiction and personal narrative to follow a protagonist navigating mental illness in a post-climate change world’s last habitable land mass. Most recently, she illustrated Missing Daddy, a children’s book written by one of Chicago’s most prominent organizers and prison abolitionists, Mariame Kaba. Kaba has had a hand in developing many of Chicago’s radical organizing projects, including Project NIA, Chicago Freedom School, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, and We Charge Genocide. At Northwestern University, where she studied Communications, Film, and Psychology, bria helped form Unshackle NU, a political action group that pressured the school to divest from private prison corporations and companies that profit from the prison-industrial complex. As part of Unshackle NU, bria created an animated short called Prison-Industrial Complex 101. There she met Kaba, …

Books & Breakfast at The Breathing Room

The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists who come together, organizing through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons and police. The Collective operates the Breathing Room, a Black-led liberation headquarters for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago’s South Side. Like music, food crosses all boundaries. It connects the physical and the soul, and it honors our past and our present. It is essential for survival. At The Breathing Room with the #LetUsBreathe Collective, Cherisse Jackson and I have begun a collaboration in bringing a Books & Breakfast program to the space twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 to 9 a.m.. The program honors the Black Radical Tradition and The Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which began in 1969 after The National School Lunch Program provided reduced-price, but not free, lunches for poor children, and the National School Breakfast Program was limited to few schools. In order to address the need in the community, the Panthers initiated the Free Breakfast Program at St. …

The Vessels that Marva Made: An Interview with Members of Sapphire & Crystals

“I am a strong woman; my strength as a Black woman pays homage to what I call the Sapphire Spirit. A woman who is sassy, jazzy, spiritual, brainy, the healer–she is Mother Earth in its grand splendor. I salute this spirit in all Black women everywhere. The recognition of my own Sapphire Spirit provided me with the knowledge I needed to speak. My name is Marva and I speak through my art, my voice extends all the way back to the first known human being who was a Black woman. Going forth, through my ancestors, I am creating new symbols and new directions, moving from my own individual voice to that of the collective voice. I now join with sixteen other African American Women Artists and form the Sapphire & Crystals group. As a collective we step forward to the world.” –Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly In 1986 artists Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly and Felicia Grant Preston started meeting in Pitchford-Jolly’s home to discuss how to continue supporting women artists after the group Mud Peoples Black Women’s Resource …

Risk/Play/Reap at Jan Brandt Gallery

This is an excerpt from Sight Specific’s review of  “Risk Play Reap”,  a collaborative exhibition by Allison Carr, Danell Dvorak, Monica Estabrook, and Amy Wolfe, which was installed at Jan Brandt Gallery in Bloomington, IL. Presented through Sixty Regional. Art making is usually thought of as a solitary activity, but what happens when that usually solitaire activity is opened up to the direct input of others? This show, consisting of the collaborations of four artists offers some experiential insight into that question. A statement accompanying the show in part explains the collaboration process: “Each artist began a piece, then passed it to another for further development. Additions, alterations, and reconfigurations continued, until the group agreed a piece was completed, whether through lengthy, multiple cycles, or two to three passes.” First of all, I noticed that when viewing the entirety of the show, the exchange of approaches within each piece had resulted in a variety of finished works that, at the same time, had a consistency of formal solutions. Layering, transparency, textural surfaces, juxtaposing of imagery, and often a sculptural …

Mitch Buangsuwon and Modern Americana

Mitch Buangsuwon (he/him) is a photographer, director, and filmmaker based in Chicago and Los Angeles. His work focuses on familial connections and issues. His current film project explores the ways that dementia and lack of control affect a family and his current photography project documents people’s lives across America and delves into their sense of safety. Mitch’s work can be found at mitchb.us. Cecilia Kearney: Let’s start with your background, tell me a little bit about yourself. Mitch Buangsuwon: My name is Aaron Mitchell Buangsuwon. I was born and raised in Los Angles, California. I have only recently been living in Chicago since I moved here for school, so I am very much still heavily tied to my California identity. My dad immigrated from Bangkok, Thailand to go to college where he met my mom—they’re divorced now. I was in a family that was really into the outdoors and traveling, so I was lucky to be able to go all over the U.S. and the world. As a kid, I went to Switzerland a lot as well …

Featured image: Maggie Robinson and Allison Sokolowski performing in “I Am” at the Chicago Danztheatre Auditorium, as part of the Body Passages culminating event. Maggie balances with one foot, knee, and hand on the floor, as Allison stands on Maggie’s lower back. The performers hold each other’s left hands and look at each other. Both are barefoot and wear white t-shirts and jeans. Behind them is a well-lit stage, with a string of colorful paper suspended across it. Still from a video by John Borowski.

Body Passages: Culminating Collaborations

This is the fourth and final article in a series about Body Passages, a partnership between Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and The Chicago Poetry Center (the first, second, and third pieces can be found here). These articles provide brief looks into a 10-month, interdisciplinary creative process between Body Passages poets and dancers, documenting and reflecting on aspects of that process as it happens. Launched in 2017, Body Passages is an artist residency and performance series curated and produced by Sara Maslanka (Artistic Director of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble) and Natasha Mijares (Reading Series Curator of The Chicago Poetry Center; Natasha also writes for Sixty). Trigger warning: The performance “Blood Memory,” discussed below, contains references to sexual assault, including in childhood. During a culminating event featuring groups’ final performances, the Body Passages artists offered the audience sugar cereal, sparkling cider, and glowsticks; invited us to dance with them and record ourselves reading their poetic curations; and asked us to travel back in time with them to New Year’s Eve 1998. Especially appropriate given Body Passages’ collaborative focus and …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 3: Leah Gipson

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of re-orienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted just as much in ethics as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. And yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: What and who is art’s “community,” and what do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores …

MA Exhibition: The Midway Point

This review is part of our Sixty Regional project which partners with artists,  writers, and artist-run spaces to highlight art happening throughout the Midwest and Illinois. Written by Jessica Bingham, artist and co-founder of Project 1612, this review looks into the recent MA Exhibition at Heuser Art Center at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Large windows scale the exterior walls of Bradley University’s Heuser Art Center, giving you a glimpse of the artworks that lie within. There is absolutely no way to drive past the building without taking a peek into the gallery. The artwork seems to glow from within, especially in the winter, and the MA Exhibition was no exception. Large-scale paintings by Jack Crouch fill the walls, the rich historical narratives from which they are derived interrupted with playful teddy bears and children’s toys, a window into the life of the painter. Natalie Zelman’s organic ceramic objects cover pedestals that sit lower to the floor, creating reflective landscapes. The back walls of the gallery are plastered with a large floor to ceiling installation of painted cardboard, …

Encircling Community with Circles & Ciphers: An Interview with Steve Serikaku

Within Circles & Ciphers‘ programming, Community Peace Circle is a long established institution in both the neighborhood of Rogers Park and the city of Chicago. This space represents my earliest interaction with the organization and provided me with a foundational understanding of circle facilitation. Circles & Ciphers presently offers four types of circles on a weekly or biweekly basis to accommodate a range of different social and gender identities: Young Men’s, Women of Color, Freestyle, and Community. Community Peace Circle offers a flexible format which caters to the broadest range of identities and ages allowing these groups to interact and share space with one another. In order to further understand the types of people who give shape and meaning to the Community Peace Circle, I wanted to interview attendees to see what drew them into the space and what keeps them returning. This interview was conducted with Steve Serikaku, a local resident of Edgewater who is also involved with several social justice efforts that align with his Unitarian Universalist faith doctrine. Mike Strode: How are you …

Darien R. Wendell, Forging Black Queer Sanctuaries by Any Means

Darien R. Wendell (they/them, ey/em, d) is a transdisciplinary artist, curator, educator, and organizer who uses art as a vehicle to interrogate and excavate Black queer histories, experiences, and moments. They harness their inquiry in pursuit of creating art, spaces and worlds for Black trans and gender non-conforming folks who seek refuge, community and connection. Their work expands over different media and expressions, including performance, sculpture, illustration, and zines. They are also part of several Chicago-based artists and organizing collectives–one of which is A Tribe Called Cunt, a “squad” co-created with Bonita Africana (Shanna Collins) that highlights the many contributions of Black trans and gender non-conforming rappers and cultural producers to hip-hop culture.    It was an art teacher in high school who encouraged Darien to think critically about art as a tool and not just aesthetics. They had a culture jamming assignment that required them to look at an advertisement, research the company that produced it to understand the company’s practices, and then create a counterculture piece of art about it. The main point of …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 2: Regin Igloria and North Branch Projects

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of reorienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted in ethics as much as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. Yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: who is art’s “community,” and what exactly do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores the influence that …

Reflections on Pictures from an Exposition at the Newberry Library

Even 125 years later, we can’t stop thinking about the World’s Columbian Exposition, an extravaganza so large and dense that we continue to unpack its flaws and glorify its vastness. In 1893, Chicago introduced the world to collections of dancers, photographs, paintings, magazines, and yes, even a map made entirely of pickles. The fair influenced how we view and how we curate exhibitions today. It was a spectacle and its history is a labyrinth of stories and mystery, and even a bit of horror. The Newberry Library is looking at the visual aspects of the fair—exhibiting an extensive collection of ephemera and art—in Pictures From the Exposition: Visualizing the 1893 World’s Fair. The exhibition displays the way artwork influenced people from afar to visit Chicago, as well as those who were living the experience, and how these images served as a means of advertising as well as fine art. What’s always been so undeniably interesting to me as a Hyde Parker, living on the edges of where the famous fair was once held, is how …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 1: Nicole Marroquin

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of reorienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted in ethics as much as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. Yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: who is art’s “community,” and what exactly do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores the influence that Addams …