Year: 2020

Theater Groups Get Creative with Delivering Content During the Quarantine

While entertainment venues across the world have gone dark due to the coronavirus, theaters and artistic groups have been finding ways to raise the spirits of people. The NY Metropolitan Opera, Melbourne Symphony, and many other major venues are streaming concerts and recordings.  Some groups, notably groups here in Chicago, have taken digital content to another level: artists are creating new content to live stream to viewers. We talked to three theatrical groups that have been filling our screens during this crisis: Aloft Circus Arts,  Nasty Brutish and Short, and Mr. and Mrs. Wednesday-Night. Aloft is a Chicago circus school and performance space in a former church in Logan Square. Students, both professionals and amateurs, have the opportunity to take classes on a variety of apparatuses including trapeze, silks, trampoline wall, juggling, acrobatics and much more. With the recent closure of bars and restaurants, Aloft decided to move to streaming circus classes for its students. At set times during the week, students can take live virtual classes with their teachers on topics such as foolery, …

A Scene of Her Own: The Inimitable Vaginal Davis

Her blond hair perfectly flipped, a smile breaking across her warm and open face, Vaginal Davis takes the mic, satin blue nighty shimmying. Amidst a stage of fierce femmes of all shapes and sizes rocking back and forth in slumber party attire, Davis holds the center of our attention. Performing tonight as Graciela Grejalva—lead singer of Cholita!—she sings, she shouts, sweating, spitting rapid-fire lyrics, a pink swatch of fabric clutched in one hand. Her other hand gesticulates wildly, mirrored by the lingerie-clad woman to her left who cajoles in pantomime, pointing at, sometimes flipping off the audience, implicating and drawing them in. Black and brown women, including Alice Bag of Sad Girl and The Bags, play backup to our Blatino (half Black, half Mexican), intersexed, queer drag superstar, churning out a low-fi frenzied garage punk beat. “CHINGA TU, CHINGA TU, CHINGA TU MADRE!” they collectively sing in urgent, joyful unison. Go fuck yourself. Literally, go fuck your mother. Vaginal Davis, who named herself after Black radical Angela Davis with a queer, humorous twist, is not …

Rachel Youn in their studio. They sit in front of untitled works comprised of massagers, artificial plants, and speaker cabinets. Photo by Krista Valdez.

Massagers Meet Mosh Pits: An Interview with Rachel Youn

At first glance, Rachel Youn’s studio looks more like a garage sale than an atelier. Forty artificial plants cavort around the room, sprouting from machines, which, upon closer inspection, divulge their former lives as foot massagers—the kind you see on TV ads that tell you it’s time to go to bed. In this dancehall greenhouse dream, vintage speakers pose as plinths under the auspices of disco lights.  At one end of Youn’s studio jostles Adulators, a kinetic combine of a creamsicle-colored Shiatsu foot massager and two scuffling artificial olive branches. Youn does not conceal the mechanics of their sculptures: the leaves’ movements are logical, clearly stemming from the vibrating foot massager at their base. Nonetheless, the work entrances, as the two branches hypnotically wrestle on a loop; despite endless encounters, a loser is never pinned. Youn harbors the poetics of these olive branches—symbols of peace—to evoke infinite uncertainty, in which the viewer ultimately finds solace. In other works, like the motion-activated Devotee—a composite chi swing and artificial fan palm that scrubs the floor in subtle, …

Yasaman Moussavi at the Beverly Art Center

Space is a longtime preoccupation with the Iranian artist Yasaman Moussavi, whose recent show, Intervals was on display at the Beverly Art Center from Jan 3 to Feb 2, 2020. In Moussavi’s Intervals, space is mediated through two parallel operations of marking and organizing. By marking I mean a primeval enactment of space through play and its subsequent punctuation through psychic and cultural investment. Organizing, on the other hand, is less about compartmentalization than about space as the locus of social cooperation. Intervals consists of three parts: suspended large handmade papers installed along a zig-zag path, a bird’s eye view upon an urban landscape created by molded papers, and a collection of tiny cubicle paper modules carefully selected and framed in a fashion reminiscent of butterfly specimens. Hanged by thin transparent wires, the papers with the bulky, rough surfaces manifest a thrust, a longing for defying gravity. However, such an urge for the heavens does not manifest a perfect balance but a fragile union of materiality and spirituality. Likewise, the framed paper modules—despite all their …

In Case of Emergency: Artist Resources For You, For Us

All of us at Sixty can’t help but to think about the strain that is being put on our arts community in Chicago and across the Midwest. Exhibitions, performances, and fundraisers are being canceled or postponed indefinitely, contract opportunities are halting, schools and cultural institutions are being shut down, side-gigs at and income from bars, restaurants, and retail stores are dwindling. We are also seeing incredible examples of community organizing in and beyond the arts that are providing quick support locally, regionally, and nationally. And if you’re like us, you’re looking for ways to support those efforts or even start your own initiatives to help others who are in need. Knowledge is power, so in an effort to share information, we’ve compiled a growing list of suggestions, resources, and things you can do, models you can adapt, and small actions you can take now to do your part. And though we are sharing these resources with the best of intentions, we encourage you to also do your own research into the organizations, initiatives, and efforts …

Image: An illustration of three women. The composition is dissected into three planes.

March Art Picks

Art Picks is a monthly event calendar 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. The featured image was created by one of Sixty’s incredibly talented illustrators, Kiki Dupont, who is an interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago. Find more of Kiki’s work on Instagram @kikidupontart or on her website. This is a growing list, so check back often for new additions. Feb 29- Mar 1, 2020Women According to MenGene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: 164 N State St $6-12 Sun, Mar 1, 3-4pmLázaro Lima: Being BrownThe Seminary Co-op Bookstores: 5751 S Woodlawn AveFree Sun, Mar 1, 4-7pmPlaying in the Dark: Selected Work by Bill Talsma (1971-2019)PO Box Collective: 6900 N Glenwood AveFree Mon, Mar 2, 6-7:30pmMartha Wilson and the Franklin FurnaceDepartment of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago: 915 E 60th StFree Mon, Mar 2, 7-9pmIsaiah Collier and …

Hardware & Soft Bodies: What I’m Learning From Agnes Denes

I have been programming computers as part of my art practice for a number of years. This pursuit feels increasingly queer the longer I do it: at one time I felt I was adding my queerness to a straight-set of tools, but these days it’s more like pulling forth something that was already there. Lately, I have enjoyed imagining that tech has always been a queer project. The irony here is that most technologists are straight cismen, so they pursue this queer project unwittingly. Tech practitioners try to reproduce themselves as computers: gender-flexible bodies with many modes of union (pins, ports, invisible blue teeth). They succeed and fail to recreate themselves in their own repressed queer image. All electronics achieve a kind of fleshliness via scatology, burning fossil fuel and producing noxious waste, which is cleverly closeted away in power plants. At the same time, most computers remain too smooth and hard to feel alive. Practitioners remain oblivious that their faltering aim is the sexless production of excreting bodies—instead, they think they are working toward …

Featured image: Sahar Mustafah sits outdoors, smiling and looking off-camera. She wears a black winter coat, light grey scarf, and large hoop earrings. A bush with tan leaves fills most of the space behind her, with greenery and parts of a building behind that. Photo by Mark Blanchard.

Beyond the Page: Sahar Mustafah

“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 fiction writer and high school English teacher Sahar Mustafah about her debut novel, “The Beauty of Your Face.” We spoke in January about her process of drafting, crafting, and publishing the book; how her writing and teaching inform each other; and key experiences — and women — that have shaped her as an author. “The Beauty of Your Face” (W.W. Norton, 2020) is available for pre-order. Check out the book launch event and reading at the American Writers Museum on April 7. Find Mustafah on Twitter @saharmustafah. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and to limit plot-related spoilers to the contents of the prologue and the book jacket. Marya Spont-Lemus: I’ve admired your work since we met through StoryStudio’s “Novel in a Year” program in 2015. I loved your short story collection, Code of the West (Willow Books, 2017), and was completely absorbed …

No Nation

La primera vez que visité {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} fue en 2016, apenas un año después de mi llegada a Chicago. Uno de los profesores en el departamento de performance de la facultad iba a presentar un trabajo en {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} e invitó a  la clase a conocer el espacio y el talento de artistas locales emergentes. Recuerdo el primer impacto; una mezcla de fascinación, asombro, calidez y confort, un sentido absoluto de pertenencia e identificación con el arte, la comunidad y la filosofía del espacio. Procesos experimentales y performances sin terminar, performances con materiales orgánicos, insólitos, arriesgados y dispares como fuego o fluidos corporales, performances desinhibidas, transgresoras, interactivas y viscerales. The first time I visited {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} was in 2016, barely a year after my arrival in Chicago. One of my teachers from the performance department was presenting a new work at {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} and invited our class to discover the space and the talent of emerging local artists. I remember the first impact; a mixture of fascination, wonder, warmth and comfort, an absolute sense of …

Landscape of What is the Midwest? exhibition at The Newberry Library

What is the Midwest?

“Place is a home, be it homestead, henhouse, town, nest, den, or cave. Place is renewal. It is history and hope for those who dwell there.” —Jill Metcoff “Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers.” —Andrew Jackson, 1829 State of the Union Address The door is a question mark, one that also punctuated the title of the recent Newberry Library exhibition What is the Midwest? It’s a question I’ve been stuck on for years now, as I’ve grown and felt the tugging that can only happen after you have sprouted roots in a place. This question of place functions as storage organ for the words and images produced by creators in the region. It is a lonely sort of potato. It can power the work – we feel we have to prove our place – or drag us down – we feel we have to prove our place. Writer Dorothy Allison grew up in one such no-place, “the place that is no place for most other people.” The truck stop. …

Talking Culture and Taking Chances with Urooj Shakeel

Like many people who move to Chicago, Urooj Shakeel made the decision to relocate from a suburb of Detroit after realizing that if she wanted to try her hand at a career in the arts, now was the time. She doubled down and left long careers in healthcare and marketing to study arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to her move, she took a moment to reflect on her love of Detroit and the ways in which it seeded her love for art. Urooj wrote on her website, “I could go on forever talking about Detroit and all the artworks I’ve come across, interacted with and studied. How each one of them inspired me in my own art projects and where my ideas originated from. I can never be thankful enough for my colossal beginnings in Detroit. Everything I’ve learned from this city will inspire me in everything I plan to do in Chicago.” Her words foreshadow how she would shape her practice after landing in Chicago …

Intimate Justice: Clitora Leigh

“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 met with Clitora Leigh in Andersonville to talk about strip clubs in Chicago, coming out as a sex worker, and being a sexy clown.  S. Nicole: I saw you perform at Reunion and was like—oh my gosh—I have to talk to this person! It was amazing. Are you from Chicago? If you’re not, what brought you here? Did you go to school?  Clitora Leigh: I’m originally from the Cleveland area. I’ve lived in Chicago for six years. I studied theater performance at Ohio University. I got my BFA, and then immediately after I graduated, I was like – okay, I have six hundred dollars in medical bills, how will I ever pay this off?! I couldn’t even fathom having six hundred dollars in my life. I was working in a daycare. Around that time, I started stripping. So, I’ve been stripping for, …

Three Poems by Sharanya Sharma

content warning: descriptions of violence nandi relays a message after an endless swallowing    of years a little girl, limbs molded from mother’s darkest saffron stole   to my soot-stoned side hewn from sweat      and love.  hungrily she cupped a hand        to my frozen ear.      the cold pelt          singed        in her exhale   as  with earth-stained lips she scratched words           into being   the way eyes were once carved            into my face.    she said               lord       give me a mouth           that is too full            of teeth to hold a prayer still              in my blood.  and skittered away      before a guard     could tell her not to touch me             as if the whorls            of her ancestors’ fingers            were not imprinted     in my skin.  unblinking i gaze into a land of concrete      and glass. even here,    in a view of metal ants and water         i cannot cross, i see              your feet  blue thighs poised      melding into              sea and sky                  toes jeweled            in a blanket                of white.  they call it snow. the falling of silk slivers that disappear into hair               and flesh.  lord, tell me.        will they     know the …

Featured image: Sharanya Sharma. Sharma sits with hands folded on a white table, with copies of “Set Fire to This Crooked House” and multi-colored notebooks in the foreground. Sharma wears a marigold cardigan open over a black and white striped shirt and smiles at the camera. Behind Sharma are several pastel throw pillows and a large plant, and natural light comes through the windows. Photo by Kristie Kahns Photography.

Beyond the Page: Sharanya Sharma

“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 writer Sharanya Sharma about her MFA thesis project, “Set Fire to This Crooked House,” a poetry collection that she is in the process of developing into a book. We spoke this summer about how her poems re-envision Hindu mythology and critique histories of colonization, especially in relation to museum culture; how acts of retelling can help keep stories alive; and the broader impacts she hopes her work has. Three poems from “Set Fire to This Crooked House” are published on Sixty here. Find Sharma on Twitter @sharanyawrites. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Marya Spont-Lemus: I loved the poems you shared at the MFA reading and am so excited to learn more about the collection and your plans for it. Is that program what brought you to Chicago originally? SS: It is. I was a teacher full-time for six years and didn’t have much …

Most Read Articles of 2019

In 2019 Sixty published over 140 articles about Chicago’s artists, archivists, writers, organizers, activists, cultural workers, and extended community. This list of Sixty’s most-read articles of the year is a snapshot into the ones that had you lingering on our website throughout the year. Brought to you by writers Amanda Dee, Michael Fischer (with Gretchen Hasse), Angelica Flores, Courtney Graham (with Ryan Edmund), Tempestt Hazel, Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel (with Josh Johnson), Chelsea Ross, Sasha Tycko, and Tamara Becerra Valdez, here are our 10 most-read articles in no particular order: _All images taken from their original articles. All photo credit can be found at each link.