All posts filed under: Essay

Featured image: The cast of “KISS.” From left to right; director Monty Cole sits on the arm of an olive green couch, with his hands on his thighs facing us. He wears glasses and a blue checked shirt. Cassidy Slaughter-Mason stands in front of the couch arms at her side. She looks up and to the right. She wears a leopard print tank top and blue denim jeans. Her shadow grazes Salar Ardebili who sits on the couch staring out to the left. He wears a blue shirt and black pants. Arti Ishak sits behind him wearing a pink and brown floral dress, looking out to the left. There is a hanging lamp behind them, a door to their left, and a kitchen sink behind Ishak. Image courtesy of Austin D. Oie.

Review – “KISS” at Haven Theatre

[Spoilers for “KISS” below] “The cards spoke to a suspicion that many whose work is play can never be free of: that you can only flaunt your triviality for so long before punishment is due. A date has been selected, and on that day there will be a great culling…” – Helen Oyeyemi, “is your blood as red as this?” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The map is not the territory. This is where we must start because we must acknowledge that a play is not the story and a text is not an experience and that characters are not people and that words are not meaning. The map offers an idea of terrain, of forests and rivers, and creeks. From a map, you can discern a route and direction and make plans. When I was younger, I carried maps where my family went, charting courses across town through subways and over bridges. At the zoo, I tracked a path towards the birds of prey, making sure to pass the reptile house and always to avoid the picnic tables …

Beyond the Page: Miss Spoken’s Jasmine Davila and Rosamund Lannin

“Beyond the Page” digs into the process and practice of writers and artists who work at the intersection of literary arts and other fields. For this installment, I interviewed Jasmine Davila and Rosamund Lannin, co-producers and co-hosts of Miss Spoken — a live storytelling show and podcast featuring work by the female-identified, exploring a new theme each month. I spoke with Jasmine and Rosamund in late April about the show’s origins (and amazing themes), their own influences, and why creating spaces for women’s experiences is so important. Check out Miss Spoken at the Gallery Cabaret, the last Wednesday of every month at 7pm. Find @MissSpokenChicago on Facebook and @MissSpokenChi on Twitter. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Marya Spont-Lemus: To begin, what is Miss Spoken and how did it come to be? Rosamund Lannin: Miss Spoken is lady live lit. It’s personal essays by the female-identified, which means cis-women, trans-women — anyone who identifies as a woman is eligible to participate. We have also had gender non-conforming people participate as well. “Lady live …

Image: Kahlil Robert Irving, MOBILE STRUCTURE; RELIEF & Memorial: (Monument Prototype for a Mass); 2019. Sculptural Installation. Photo by Shabez Jamal.

From Punk Clubs to Panaderías: Counterpublic, An Embedded Triennial

In an era hypersaturated with recurring exhibitions – from Shanghai to Sharjah, Havana to Venice – a new St. Louis triennial urges artgoers to forgo the touristic water taxis for their own two feet. Organized by The Luminary, a St. Louis-based nonprofit platform for art and activism, Counterpublic reinvigorates global precedents with a model that approaches the city on the scale of a neighborhood. Its inaugural iteration takes place in the 12-block radius of Cherokee Street, a neighborhood of family-operated businesses and art spaces that serves as the Latinx center of St. Louis. Any of the 30+ site-responsive installations and performances greet equal parts neighbors carrying grocery bags and cognoscenti clutching the newspapers that serve as maps to make the pilgrimage. Artworks are ingrained in punk clubs and panaderías, indicated subtly by small yellow signs. The exhibition evolves at various levels of sunlight and sobriety – it features a John Riepenhoff-created beer at Earthworks brewery –as Counterpublic’s hours are set by the shops themselves. On the street, none of the artwork is particularly protected; this …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Piece of Mind: The Growth of a Supportive and Nurturing Arts Community

When I first moved to the Midwest and began settling into my new home in Peoria, I was immediately captured by the growing art community. Being a part of academia for so long, I had not yet lived somewhere with an arts community that developed outside of a university or college. I attended my first First Friday in Peoria, a local event with gallery crawls, studio visits, and openings, meeting so many people pursuing their passion in this city. The variety of artists at various points in their career, doing so many different things, truly astounded me. There were local artisans creating wares and goods for the community, artists making a living off of their work by selling at fairs and local businesses, academics making their work and passing their knowledge on to their pupils, artists maintaining a studio practice and taking advantage of all of the space and resources in the community, and those who were new, attending their first events and figuring out their voice in the art-ecosystem. The variety of people working in such …

Free Write Arts & Literacy, and the Work of Justice Within (and Without) the Walls of Juvenile Justice

This project asked us to envision justice. It offered the arts as a lens. As I first began to wrap my mind around the Envisioning Justice initiative (“Bringing Chicago together to examine and reimagine the criminal justice system through a creative lens”), I entered a rabbit hole of unanswerable and annoyingly abstract questions, like, what is art? (Beauty? Truth? Life? Fantasy?) And, what is art for? (Self-expression? Transcendence? Joy? Education? Justice?) Can it really be for justice? And then, of course, what is justice? How does something as wishy-washy and abstract as art bear on something as heavy and real as incarceration? In the two articles I published previously for the Envisioning Justice writing residency, I included responses to the prompt, “How do you envision justice?” from two artists who have been working within Illinois jails and prisons for years. Both responses were not cynical, but rather the opposite; they were tired of the question. It’s the work, not the envisioning of the work, that needs to get done, they seemed to say. Here’s Sarah …

Locating Your Practice in ‘Todros Geller: Strange Worlds’ with Curator Susan Weininger

Todros Geller, (1889-1949), was a Jewish-American artist born in Ukraine, immigrating to Canada and later Chicago in 1906, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. He became a prominent artist during his time, having a hand in many organizations in Chicago and working with such artists as Charles White. The exhibition Todros Geller: Strange Worlds showcases the diverse work—in style, subject matter, and medium—that Geller created throughout his lifetime; and is hosted at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning, an organization that began as the College of Jewish studies, where Todros Geller taught for many years. Many of the objects from the exhibition come from the institute’s extensive collection of Jewish art and historic, ritual objects, a collection that Todros Geller began. Co-curator of the exhibition Dr. Susan Weininger explains Geller’s interest in Jewish art, “One of the things that [Geller] pursued his whole life was the idea of a Jewish art museum. He knew that there was a history of Jewish art [and] he traveled to study that history.” Dr. Weininger and …

Riding Interstellar Waves: A Performance Essay on Afro-Futurism and Time Travel from D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem

This essay exists as a record, a performance document and collaged concept map linking threads in an interstellar web charting the content of my lectures and presentations culled from over 25 years of study, teaching, sculpting, and performing, each coded element an entry point like portals to the vast arkestry of Afrofuturist future visioning. Highlights include references to performance ritual as the High Priestess of the Intergalactic Federation, Special Envoy to Mars, for the September 27, 2018 Decolonizing Mars/Becoming Interplanetary symposium convened by NASA/Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology Lucianne Walkowicz at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, and content from performance-lecture-poetics for “Afro-Futurism and Time Travel” at the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Art and Inquiry and from The Ramm Riff featuring Black Light Primal Nun ‘A’ at Red Bull Arts NY for No Guts, No Galaxy slide show series as part of programming for the exhibition Rammellzee: Racing for Thunder. This is an experimental collage, ideas and poetics intertwined, a performance-lecture-poetic in multiple stanzas, a Time Travel Riff from the outposts of Afro-Futurist vision …

On Incarceration, Quilting and Building Community at Homan Square

August of this year, Nichols Tower Artist-in-Residence Rachel Wallis held her first quilting circle where she invited participants to sew thoughts, plans, and dreams that female inmates at the Cook County prison have for their children. In different stages of incarceration, some of these women are awaiting a trial, some are being processed. These women are mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters who were separated from their family as a result of imprisonment. On her website, artist Rachel Wallis describes herself as “an activist who uses art in organizing work, and an artist who engages in issues of racial and social justice.” As an extension of her art practice, Wallis approached the Cook County women’s facility with a series of quilting workshops to engage the inmates; the first of which took place in summer of 2018. Scheduled on a Saturday afternoon, Wallis began the three-hour workshop by inviting participants to sit in a circle. Before she entrusted the participants with the sewing, Wallis, along with facilitators Jamilah Bowden, a professional counselor at H’Art of Hope, and Audrey …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Remembering Sabina Ott

I couldn’t come up with a short list of my teachers without including the beloved artist, educator, space-maker and force-of-nature, Sabina Ott. And since she is no longer here for me to pose this question to her, I’ll share, at length, how important she has been in my life and the life of Sixty Inches From Center. In addition to this being a space for my teachers, this piece on Sabina also serves another purpose. Although we are known as an arts publication, at the heart of Sixty’s mission is a deep passion for legacy-nurturing and legacy-keeping for Chicago artists—especially those most vulnerable to the erasure that happens so often within art historical narratives. It is also in that spirit that I write this. Sixty started in 2010 with incredible support from a group of artists, historians, and mentors out of Columbia College  whose commitment and investment in me and my co-founding partner at the time, Nicolette Caldwell, was bottomless and generous in a way that often left us speechless. Sabina Ott is one of …

This is an image of moderators and panelists talking.

Beyond Alternatives, Toward Refusal

Beyond Alternatives, a two-day symposium organized by Cory Imig and Dulcee Boehm, fostered a dedicated site to share and reflect upon their experiences as artist-organizers working outside of metropolitan centers. The dozens of artists, writers, educators, and curators living in, thinking about, and actively building communities and social networks who came together reflected the need for this event. The symposium converged and slipped around three main themes: sustainability and transparency when directing an artist-led project, social practice and community engagement, and institutional critique. Paddy Johnson, the founding editor of Art F City, a digital platform for critical conversations surrounding contemporary art, a writer and independent art blogger, opened the symposium with a keynote address appropriately titled “Artist-Led Projects.” Johnson opened with a summary of her and collaborator Michael Anthony Farley’s iterative project “We’re SO not getting the security deposit back,” a guide to now defunct artist-run spaces documented in NYC, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. Each guide features commissioned essays, which emphasized the unique history and conditions of each city. Inherent to this project is a …

You Can’t Draw Permanent Lines on the Ground in a Floodplain

Iron the common element of earth in rocks and freightersSault Sainte Marie—big boats coal-black and iron-ore-red topped with what white castlework  The waters working together internationally Gulls playing both sides –Lorine Niedecker From the poem “Lake Superior,” 1967 For the last twelve years, my professional and personal life has been split between the Midwest/Great Lakes metropolis of Chicago and Champaign-Urbana in the center of the state. The train I take between these two homes—on a rail line celebrated in folk-singer Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans”—passes through terrain covered by large, uniform fields of corn and soybeans. Cylindrical grain storage bins periodically rise out of the flat horizon like rockets that got stuck in a perpetual countdown, never to blast off. There are many readymade images that someone like me projects onto these scenes. One of the strongest being the pastoral image of productive family farmers, feeding America with sweat and basic technology; a Grant Wood painting, in 3D living color. After a couple of years of inhabiting and moving through this territory, the surface of …

Writing at The Club: A Look at The State of The Dance Circle

On October 11, 2016, artist, writer, performer, and DJ, Juliana Huxtable, gave a lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Visiting Artists series at SAIC. The lecture was a look into her practice and she mentioned everything from her love of Geocities, liberation theologies, and the Mesozoic era. It’s been over a year since this lecture took place and one of the echoes that has remained in my mind from that evening is Huxtable’s view on the “dance circle.” We can see forms of dance circles in nature enacted through many processes. On the cellular level, “cooperative binding” is used to construct well-defined assemblies of cells and is used to transfer information. Possibly the greatest dancers of all, bees, take part in what is called “the waggle dance” which appears to be a method by which the direction and distance of a food source is communicated among individuals. A scientific drawing of cooperative binding. Courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences.  Images of sound recordings of a bee’s waggle dance. Courtesy of The …

New Nepotism and What it Means to Curate Friends

Since I began writing about art in 2014, I’ve always had a personal rule that I would never interview a close friend for an article. Yet here I am, in 2018, breaking my own rule on new nepotism with Galia Basail and Nicholas Kinsella, two friends, artists, and curators. I spoke with each of them separately about their ideas on what it means to be a curator who curates friends and how this can help or harm a practice. András Szántó said, “The whole art world is woven together by personal relationships and friendships of one sort or another.” But when do friendships, and climbing a career ladder, become muddy, rinsed of any merit, and leave both artist and curator questioning creative intention? In the highly criticized article, “Friends Curating Friends” published on Newcity in  2013, Pedro Vélez wrote, “I cringe every weekend when I receive invites to see exhibitions curated by my friends’ friends. I do so because the people curating my friends are my friends too. Which means I must make an effort …

Walking Through Change with Deep Time Chicago

It’s an unseasonably warm December morning and I’m driving cautiously through a Chicago warehouse district, south on Ashland Avenue past an overpass of the Stevenson expressway. The slice of the interstate makes this patch of the city feel like a peninsula, jutting timidly into a convergence of two stretches of the Chicago River. My directions lead me down a small road innocuously named Marketplace Access, past the slick corporate bulk of the QTS Data Center campus, and I’ve arrived. I join a group of about forty light-jacketed companions at Canal Origins Park for a walk through the city’s history of timber extraction with Deep Time Chicago, a collective of ecology-minded artists who want to retrain our awareness to our surroundings, and the artists Sara Black and Raewyn Martyn, whose joint installation Edward Hines National Forest is on view at the Hyde Park Art Center. The park commemorates the point where the Illinois & Michigan Canal once connected the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River drainage basin. It’s an impressive sounding spot, but if I’ve ever …

Gettin’ Down With The Underground

“..this impulse of artists building spaces and communities for themselves and struggling with the relevancy of their discipline to a broader public has a long history.”—Abigail Satinsky, Introduction to Support Networks “Meaning becomes compensated through its connection to an infrastructure. The infrastructure provides a chorus of intentions that facilitate a more robust interpretive model.”—Nato Thompson, “Contributions to a Resistant Visual Culture Glossary,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest In the above quotes from Support Networks, editor Abigail Satinksy and contributor Nato Thompson extol the legacy of DIY creative collectivity and resourcefulness. There’s an old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the spirit of that adage, I chose to have a conversation with three leaders in Chicago’s bustling experimental performance scene, each of whom has made their own way, their own way. Marie Casimir is the Associate Director of Links Hall, Latham Zearfoss is the co-producer of Chances Dances, and Kevin Simmons is the Founder and Acting Executive Director of High Concept Laboratories. I offer the following article as proof that the title …