Month: June 2019

Smiling Behind the Sun: An Interview with Patrick Pursley

Libyans sometimes refer to being arrested and taken away without warning as being “taken behind the sun.” This interview series celebrates—through conversations with currently and formerly incarcerated artists—the ways in which an artistic, creative life can transmute the impact and redefine the legacy of an experience within the Prison Industrial Complex. In 1994, Patrick Pursley was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, despite no eyewitness identification, confession, DNA, or fingerprint evidence. Patrick’s case was repeatedly rejected by wrongful conviction advocates, citing the fact that there was no legal recourse to force a re-evaluation of the one piece of evidence—ballistics—that the state had used to convict him. Instead of giving up, Patrick helped write and advocate for an amendment to the Illinois post-conviction forensic testing statute. The amendment passed in 2007, clearing the way for Patrick’s own exoneration—the first post-conviction exoneration based on ballistic testing in the nation.  In addition to being a legendary jailhouse lawyer, Patrick is an author and producer. We met up in Hyde Park to talk about his creative path, the …

Arranging, Abstracting, and Transforming at Experimental Sound Studio

Entering Without Within at Experimental Sound Studio (ESS) in Ravenswood, you encounter a variety of sculptural objects comprised of glazed ceramic, cuts of wood, and metal panels made by multidisciplinary artist Mie Kongo. The pieces, an amalgamation of these natural materials, are combined so carefully and intentionally as they emanate a calm confidence. One piece features an amoeba-like, white structure that exists on top of a tree log that’s been cleanly chopped on top and bottom. Two rectangle tiles grow out of the amoeba and a small metal panel cleanly sits atop all of this chaos.  Surrounding this visual experience is the subtle influx of sound that oscillates between somewhat recognizable and minimal industrial sounds to more complex abstractions, created by sound artist Norman Long. This sort of arranging, abstracting, and transforming lies at the heart of the exhibition, curated by Ruth Hodgkins, the current Bentson Archivist and Assistant Curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Throughout the exhibition, both artists take inspiration from the world around them but choose to adjust, amend, and …

Image: Elliot stands under scaffolding along a brick building, with the street to the right. One hand holds onto a post on the scaffolding, and he's leaning out to the left towards the frame. Photo is in black and white. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

The Art of Adaptation: An Exit Interview with Elliot J. Reichert

In 2013, just days into his position as the Assistant Curator of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Elliot J. Reichert was doing what curators often do. After being thrown into the installation process of a new exhibition, he was flexing his ability to fuel wildfires while demonstrating his resourcefulness in locating unusual materials at the very last minute in service of an artist’s vision. In this case, the artist was the late musician and sculptor Terry Adkins and the wildfires were the brand new works that had been sitting on the back shelf of Adkins’ mind for years that he now had the opportunity to bring to life. When Elliot took this role, the museum was preparing to mount Recital, a substantial solo exhibition of Adkins’ work which had traveled from the Tang Teaching Museum in Saratoga Springs, New York to Chicago. When Recital was being mounted, there was no way of knowing that this mid-career retrospective would, in fact, be a definitive moment in Adkins’ career and would also be marked …

We’re Here: The hub of drag and queer culture in Central Illinois

When one thinks of epicenters of drag culture, places like San Francisco, New York, L.A., and other large diverse areas are what comes to mind. When thinking of Illinois, the mind automatically goes to Chicago and the thriving drag community there. You just have to look at pride events in these areas and the vast amount and variety of entertainers, queens, performers, and queer culture, to see why. No one thinks of looking a little south of the windy city at Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign, for example. For anyone who comes from a small town, myself being from small town West Virginia, it often seems like these large cultural hubs are the only place where drag performances and pride events are possible. This, however, could not be further from the truth. There is a rich culture of drag spread about and hidden amongst the cornfields; a beautiful and diverse group of entertainers and artists maintaining a thriving culture of drag outside of the metropolitan areas. I have been performing in drag for about two …

Time, bodies, and objects: An Interview with Guen Montgomery

Champaign-Urbana is home to a multitude of artists and creative people. The visual arts community in C-U is one that can, broadly speaking, be divided into three groups: local artists with no institutional affiliation; faculty, staff, and students at Parkland College; and faculty, staff, and students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a whole, they generate a vibrant intellectual and creative energy not often found in other similarly sized cities. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Art + Design has nationally and internationally recognized faculty working in all media, but there aren’t very many opportunities to spend time with faculty artwork here in C-U. As faculty at a research-focused institution, they regularly have successes at the national and international levels. The combination of only a handful of exhibition spaces in C-U, and the university’s encouragement for non-local exhibitions and lectures, makes it common to know someone fairly well but have a very hazy sense of their creative work and research. I first met multimedia artist and UIUC Teaching Assistant Professor Guen …

The Law of Attraction: Katie Bell at University Galleries

A nexus of energy has coalesced in the corner of Illinois State’s University Galleries, pulling objects and people alike to its epicenter. Brooklyn-based artist, Katie Bell’s site-specific installation is a symphony of found materials. Planks of wood and sheets of foam board are layered on the walls over large swaths of pastel paint. A pillar leans like a toppled monument. A strip of rubber baseboard stretches over the concrete floor, drapes across the wall, and curls back onto the floor. A wooden rod pierces a stack of pink paper. Cuts of curved faux-marble seem to melt as though lifted from a surrealist’s canvas—a Kay Sage painting breaking through the picture plane. In her animated yet understated play of line and geometric form, Bell also seems to borrow compositional cues from the suprematists. And if the energetic compositions and muted color palette of Standing Arrangement are the embodiment of what Malevich championed as a “pure artistic feeling,” then it is one of dreamlike ecstasy. Laced throughout the room are moments of suspension, the climax just after …

Swarm To This Chicago Art Residency’s First Public Showcase

Swarm Artist Residency is not just a creative community—it is an apiary. Like a bee farm, Swarm pollinates individual artist practices and cultivates a one-of-a-kind community. Swarm started in 2015 with the intention of creating a safe, inclusive communal space to nurture underrepresented artists’ practices. Each July, Chicago artists and healing practitioners get out of the city to gather on a farm out of state for a low-cost or fully-sponsored residency. Artists nourish in each other’s co-presence in community workshops, shared meals, and healing circles. Away from the city’s noise, new ideas buzz.   Four years into the experiment, Swarm is putting on its first public exhibition in the city. Its showcase of current and former artists in residence is timed for the summer solstice: Friday, June 21, 7:30-10:30pm, at Logan Square’s FDC Studios. In addition to giving the public a chance to engage with Swarm’s art and communal energy away from the retreat space, the exhibition fundraiser will also help cover 2019 residency costs for accepted artists. I talked to two of Swarm’s Queen …

Image: Installation shot of Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well, 2019. © Gregg Bordowitz. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Analog Love: Synching Up In the Time of Queerness

“Queer life and love in the 1980s was cruelly characterized by the knowledge that time was running out.” —Joshua Chambers Letson, After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life What if queerness is not out of time? What if it is in fact deeply entangled in time, intimate with its intricate loops, its swells, its passing lulls? Consider the clock to be a geography of relation. To declare queer not out of time but in fact enmeshed with time is to dance towards becoming synchronous against the odds. Attuning across long distances, linking despite (or perhaps because of) grief. To fall in time is to fall into a love unrequited: time cannot love you back, cannot nurse your wounds, cannot even promise you company. Time is out to kill, racing against us. Even yet—we rush to its side, seeking its alliance at a lover’s deathbed or amidst the off-hours communion of the dance floor. + Lately I’ve been dancing with archives. Everything touches up with everything: I am experiencing what seems a surreal …

A portrait of Tara Aisha Willis, the Associate Curator of Performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Tara is standing with elbows on a ledge, hands up toward her face and fingers intertwined. She stands in a space where there are plants and golden yellow lights hanging from the ceiling. Photo by Kristie Kahn.

Dance Manifold: A Conversation with Tara Aisha Willis

“…completely new yet familiar territory.” These words echoed after I revisited the accompanying publication for Relations, a performance that brought together pioneering artists Bebe Miller, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Ralph Lemon on the MCA Stage in November 2018. In her introduction for the publication, curator Tara Aisha Willis offers a series of questions and propositions that draw from the historically-anchored yet generative tone set by Miller, Houston-Jones, and Lemon, while also honoring the shapeshifting and indefinable nature of Black dance and movement practices. When considered in full, Willis, too, is the “new yet familiar” manifested in many ways. As a returning Chicago native whose dance career has developed largely outside of the city, there’s a fresh familiarity to her perspective. The new is also visible through her role as a curator of performance and when considering the artists and projects she is bringing to the MCA Stage. Then, an additional familiarity is present within her work due to an awareness of historical context, a body of knowledge that is harnessed, in part, through her work as …

Framing the Body: A Critical Look at Witkin’s Photographic Legacy

“Brilliant and divisive,” those were the words Catherine Edelman, gallery owner and panel moderator, used to describe acclaimed photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. The latest exhibition at Catherine Edelman Gallery, Joel-Peter Witkin: From the Studio, features more than 25 photographs, 80 drawings, as well as sketchbooks and journals, darkroom tools and cameras, letters, and contact sheets. But it was Witkins mission, “to create photographs that show the beauty of marginalized people,” and how he executes that aim was the primary topic of discussion for the ‘Otherness & Beauty’ panel hosted by the gallery on June 1. The panel included painter, writer and disability activist Riva Lehrer, art therapist Deb DelSignore, and art historian Mark B. Pohlad. Witkin, an American artist based in Albuquerque, photographs his subjects in carefully crafted settings and utilizes manual darkroom techniques to produce surreal images. The subjects are often “intersex, post and pre-op individuals, and people born with physical abnormalities.” Lehrer makes artwork depicting similar marginalized people, with one very important difference—she is a portrait artist. Lehrer works collaboratively with her subjects to …

Abundant & Diverse: An Overview of Visual Arts at Riverwest FemFest

Since 2015, Milwaukee’s Riverwest FemFest has become a popular and important festival within the city’s creative community, one that supports artists and musicians across multiple venues through concerts, performances, exhibitions, and workshops. As a platform for femme, gender non-conforming, non-binary, trans, POC, and womyn creators, FemFest acts as a fundraiser for various non-profits and donates all proceeds from the week-long event to local organizations that support womyn, LGBTQIA+ individuals, families, and marginalized groups in the city. The festival ran from May 26 – June 2 and this year, all proceeds were donated to Milwaukee Women’s Center, an organization that provides services to people who have been affected by domestic violence, addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, and poverty, and Diverse & Resilient, a non-profit organization that supports LGBTQ+ individuals through programs that encourage sexual health, build leadership skills and confidence, and provide anti-violence initiatives and support for substance abuse. Since its inception, FemFest has grown in size, concept, and location and now extends into neighborhoods beyond just the Riverwest community in Milwaukee, where it first got its …

Beyond Representation: The Syndicate’s First Read Festival Shows up for Trans* and Non-Binary Artists

Developing a new play takes work—and not just from the playwright. In a cash-strapped world, one where the arts are under constant threat from budget cuts, it’s difficult to find solid companies investing in plays, especially new ones. And even more rare are the companies specifically focusing on plays by womxn, queer, and trans* artists. The Syndicate is this company, equipped with a mission to foster ethical processes and equity. Though originally founded in 2014 in New York, they split a producing home with Chicago and have a presence in five cities worldwide. Through grants, fellowships, and awards they’ve been able to sustain work that pays their artists and collaborators.   This summer, lead producers Ellenor Riley-Condit, Hal Cosentino, and Denise Yvette Serna are hosting First Read 2019, the 2nd annual new play festival uplifting the work of non-binary and trans* artists. After sifting through dozens of play submissions with a team of volunteer readers, they selected four plays that will receive readings in Chicago this June. Tickets to each play are pay-what-you-can and not …

The Breathing Thing – An Interview With The Directors and Cast of “Parched”

Free Street’s offices and theater space are on the third floor of the Pulaski Park Center. It’s a labyrinth of a building, with staircases branching off, echoes from a linoleum gymnasium. Enough places to get lost. The office in which I meet director Katrina Dion and assistant director Xandra Starks has high ceilings and figures painted on the walls. Two couches and a coffee table. It’s comfy, unassuming. J: What was the impetus for this project? How did the content for this project get decided upon? Katrina: So every year, we do a ten month process with our youth ensemble. They range between thirteen and nineteen – this year it’s more between fourteen to eighteen. Every year we go to them with a question or an issue facing Chicago youth and they spend the next ten months in critical inquiry around that; doing interviews, doing research and then training, learning theater creation skills and then building that play. A couple years ago, we were trying to really think about the 2019-2020 seasons really deeply because …

June Art Picks

Our Art Picks are created in collaboration with The Visualist, Chicago’s leading visual arts calendar, and cross-promoted through Windy City Times, one of the longest locally-published LGBTQ weeklies with a national reach. Click here to get our Art Picks and latest articles delivered to your inbox monthly. Although there’s Pride all day, everyday at Sixty, we want to say happy Pride Month! To help you find the queer-loving, LGBTQIA+ events on our calendar, we’ve marked them with a little Pride love, a.k.a. you’ll see a flag flying next to the event information (🏳️‍🌈). This is a growing list, so check back often for new additions.   June Art Picks Through June 14thGoat Island World Premier PerformancesChicago Cultural Center: 78 E Washington StFree Through July 20thAbout Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art 🏳️‍🌈Wrightwood 659: 659 W. WrightwoodFree May 26-June 2, 2019Riverwest FemFest 2019 🏳️‍🌈Various Locations, Milwaukee, WIFree May 25-June 29, 2019It grows betweenEfrain Lopez Gallery: 1959 W Erie StFree May 30, 2019Performing Queer Femme POC Identities On (& Off) the Page 🏳️‍🌈Hairpin Arts Center: 2810 N Milwaukee AveFree May …