Author: Sasha Tycko

The Art of DJing: Miss Twink USA

DJing is a curious art form and rarely discussed as one. It is rarely discussed at all, except by other DJs in industry publications; what is there to say that can’t be expressed more vigorously on the dancefloor? If you’re talking, you’re not dancing, and you’re probably standing in the way of people trying to dance. Is it art? It’s entertainment, it’s a trade, it’s a party. I hear André Leon Talley in the documentary Catwalk, wrinkling his nose at a parallel question about that other commercial art form: “No, no, no. Is fashion art? No! Fashion is hard work, gritty; it’s not glamorous”—the questions is an embarrassment to both art and fashion. Or DJing. To consider the question at all means that the answer is at least “sometimes.” DJing is work in the realm of aesthetic experience; it is a discipline with a touch of wonder and mystery and creative talent. DJs hear what others don’t, they surprise us with a blend, they tell a story, they improvise, they observe the energy of a …

The Art of DJing: Morenxxx

DJing is a curious art form and rarely discussed as one. It is rarely discussed at all, except by other DJs in industry publications––what is there to say that can’t be expressed more vigorously on the dancefloor? If you’re talking, you’re not dancing, and you’re probably standing in the way of people trying to dance. Is it art? It’s entertainment, it’s a trade, it’s a party. I hear André Leon Talley in the documentary Catwalk, wrinkling his nose at a parallel question about that other commercial art form: “No, no, no. Is fashion art? No! Fashion is hard work, gritty; it’s not glamorous”—the question is an embarrassment to both art and fashion. Or DJing. To consider the question at all means that the answer is at least “sometimes.” DJing is work in the realm of aesthetic experience; it is a discipline with a touch of wonder and mystery and creative talent. DJs hear what others don’t, they surprise us with a blend, they tell a story, they improvise, they observe the energy of a room …

The Art of DJing: Ariel Zetina

DJing is a curious art form and rarely discussed as one. It is rarely discussed at all, except by other DJs in industry publications; what is there to say that can’t be expressed more vigorously on the dancefloor? If you’re talking, you’re not dancing, and you’re probably standing in the way of people trying to dance. Is it art? It’s entertainment, it’s a trade, it’s a party. I hear André Leon Talley in the documentary Catwalk, wrinkling his nose at a parallel question about that other commercial art form: “No, no, no. Is fashion art? No! Fashion is hard work, gritty; it’s not glamorous”—the questions is an embarrassment to both art and fashion (or DJing). To consider the question at all means that the answer is at least “sometimes.” DJing is work in the realm of aesthetic experience; it is a discipline with a touch of wonder and mystery and creative talent. DJs hear what others don’t, they surprise us with a blend, they tell a story, they improvise, they observe the energy of a …

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 …

Featured image: Ryan Keesling leans over the shoulder of Walter, a Free Write Sound and Vision technician, as they both look at audio mixer that sits on a table in front of them. They are outside, under a blue tent, where Sound and Vision is mixing sound for the FEAST festival that took place September 8. Photo by Chelsea Ross

Just Narratives: A Conversation with Ryan Keesling of Free Write Arts and Literacy

“The ‘envisioning justice’ conversation is like – I don’t know, I think people try too hard to think about what it will look like.” Ryan Keesling had just pulled out his phone and was pointing at a photo on Free Write Art and Literacy’s Instagram page as he spoke. It was a flyer for YAS! Fest, the youth art showcase that took place in Millennium Park in September. On the flyer was an image of two DJs who had performed at the festival, Walter and Cortez, a.k.a. DJ 1Solo and DJ Tez. Keesling continued, “That’s not to say that people shouldn’t imagine. But, for me, I have to – I can imagine it, but also when I imagine it I don’t necessarily feel it. But when I see their faces and when I work with our students, both inside and outside, and I see them growing and I see them becoming aware of their abilities, and I see them being able to take control of their lives and I see them being happy and getting …

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 …

Dwell in Other Futures

I had a basic sense of the urban history of St. Louis: deindustrialization, redlining, and white flight, all reflected in a downward sloping population chart and an interactive online map whose shaded regions shuffle along radial axes further and further apart over time. Nonetheless, I was surprised as I walked downtown. Tallish, newish buildings lined a wide boulevard dotted by tap rooms and cafes dealing overpriced salads to the only other pedestrians out and about: a small cluster of people in color-coordinated tee shirts (a school group, perhaps) and an occasional professional-looking person in a suit. I had arrived that afternoon via the Amtrak Lincoln Service Train No. 301 from Chicago, sleepy and hungry, and after taking care of both concerns with overpriced salad and bottomless coffee, and while waiting for a friend to come pick me up after work, I sought the one place in the area recommended to me by people in Chicago, the City Museum. Sensory overload was sudden and overwhelming. I now understood the meaning of the tip to “bring knee …

Reflections of the ECLIPSING Festival

I’ll begin at the end. Arms raised, knees levering, booties popping, we danced to the beats served by DJ Hijo Pródigo in the Currency Exchange Café, which had turned into a bar for the night, serving up cocktails loaded with activated charcoal. We had an hour before been perched next door on stools and benches for a reading at the BING art books store, and an hour before that stood chatting with cheese cubes on napkins in the Arts Incubator gallery. Nearly a festival in itself, it was the closing night of the monumental ECLIPSING festival: three months that included a performance series, a group and a solo exhibition, workshops, a vegan market, and a “performative lecture” in four arts venues around Chicago. The festival, whose full title is ECLIPSING: the politics of night, the politics of light, was organized by Amina Ross and took place between January and March. The word Ross used to describe the robust programming is “holistic.” An eclipse is a drama, a shifting in the relationships between the looker, the looked-at, and the …

Without, Within the World: Hume Chicago

Call them DIY, alternative, radical, or safe, Chicago’s independent art spaces create a world without money and borders within a world defined by both. They function as community hubs and communal living spaces, providing free and affordable entertainment, hosting activism workshops and food drives, and building connections among young, emerging, and marginalized artists. “Without, Within the World” is a series of interviews that asks curators and administrators about building utopia while maintaining viable spaces.      For this installment of “Without, Within the World,” we talked to executive director Fontaine Capel of Hume Chicago. Hume is a small gallery and artist studio space run out of a storefront in Humboldt Park. Through an open call process, Hume exhibits work by artists who are underrepresented on the gallery circuit, particularly women, queer, and immigrant artists. In addition to its gallery shows, Hume provides affordable studio spaces for artists and hosts regular events that contribute to its relaxed and friendly environment, such as movie nights and karaoke parties. Hume was established by Capel, Olive Panter, and Gita Jackson, who have …

Counter-Media: Live with the Hoodoisie

“Ladies and gentleman, gender non-conforming and trans deities, welcome to another episode of the Hoodoisie!” It was a Saturday night, and we sat packed-in on plastic chairs in the Chicago Art Department, a Pilsen gallery. Technical issues with the sound got things off to a late start, but no one seemed to mind as they excitedly chatted with each other, embracing friends and sipping from plastic cups. When Ricardo Gamboa made the introduction, everyone cheered. The Hoodoisie [hoo-dwa-zee, think hood plus bourgeoisie] is a live talk show that merges art, activism, and academia from what it calls  “block-optic and radical perspectives.” Now in its second year, it takes place at a different cultural space in a gentrifying neighborhood in Chicago every two weeks. Each episode begins with a round table discussion of current events, called “Teatime,” followed by a more in-depth breakdown on a specific issue and an interview with a featured guest, interspersed by a musical performance. On February 3rd the featured guest was activist and educator Page May of Assata’s Daughters. A team of videographers …

Democracy at Work: travis and P.Michael of ONO

“It’s spooky, actually,” said P.Michael when I asked about his 37-year collaboration with fellow ONO member travis. “Sometimes, he’ll be working on something and I’ll be working on something, and we’ll show each other what we’ve been working on, and it’s the same thing, sort of. It’s like one person started it and one person finished it. It just fits perfectly.” We were sitting at travis’s kitchen table in his South Side Chicago home on a Sunday afternoon, drinking peppermint tea ladled out of a pot. ONO is the “Avant-gospel” noise band that P.Michael and travis formed in 1980. They started regularly performing again about seven years ago in all varieties of DIY basements, art museums, music festivals, and loft galleries, with an evolving cast of band members. They have released several recordings in recent years, but the full ONO experience lives in the live show, which is tightly orchestrated, with a narrative arc and several costume changes. travis spits out words that weave history with personal pain, moving in and out of the crowd as he adds or subtracts …

Build, Break, Repeat: An Interview with HOGG

To experience a live HOGG set is mesmerizing and terrifying. Over bass lines that pulsate, H and E* growl, howl, crawl, laugh, scream, and slam their bodies onto unsuspecting instruments. And then they stand still—so still, for so long. These movements are methodical and choreographed as they swap instruments that include bass, guitar, a floor tom, electronic samplers and drum machines. When I think of HOGG I think of my best friend. Around the time when we first saw HOGG play, we were also making music together, and we cared deeply about ecstatic, physical performances. It was moving then, and almost a relief, to see another pair of musicians dedicating their whole selves and bodies to that end. HOGG has three studio records to date (“Solar Phallic Lion,” Scrapes, 2016; “Carnal Lust & Carnivorous Eating,” Rotted Tooth Recordings, 2016; “Bury the Dog Deeper,” Nihilist Records, 2015), with a fourth album set to be released this spring. Like the live performances, their lyrics evoke embodiment, horror, sensuality, and psychology. HOGG occasionally collaborates with other artists, such as the dancer Eryka Dellenbach and …

Without, Within the World: The Dojo

Call them DIY, alternative, radical, or safe, Chicago’s independent art spaces create a world without money and borders within a world defined by both. They function as community hubs and communal living spaces, providing free and affordable entertainment, hosting activism workshops and food drives, and building connections among young, emerging, and marginalized artists. “Without, Within the World” is a series of interviews that asks curators and administrators about building utopia while maintaining viable spaces.      The first to be profiled is the Dojo, an underground performance venue and gallery in Pilsen. Though the Dojo has its roots in the DIY music scene, their curation constantly skirts the boundaries between genres and communities. Established in 2015 by Alex Palma, Mykele Deville, and Daniel Kyri (DK), who all lived in Pilsen at the time, the Dojo is now run by Palma and Calie Ramone, who work with a variety of outside curators and “Dojo Homies,” who put together diverse music and art shows two or three times a week. When I meet Palma at his Pilsen apartment (he …

Designing for a Fertile Future

As a designer who is concerned about the future of the planet, Jessica Gorse thinks sustainability is not a sufficient goal. If humans are to stem ongoing environmental and political crises, according to Gorse, they need to get more imaginative and take up regenerative projects that grow better future worlds. To that end, Gorse—who went back to school at age 28 for a degree in Designed Objects at SAIC—investigates the possible lifespans of materials we use every day. This takes form in her work with Fertile Design, a project she started with fellow SAIC students Erin Delaney and Soniya Khasgiwale. Together, they experiment with making plastics out of food waste that are then embedded with seeds and nutrient-rich natural dyes such that through biodegrading they replenish the soil and germinate. What is so great about Gorses’s work is that it is both idealistic and completely practical. She calls this practice “futurist world-building.” When I met Gorse in her studio at SAIC, we began by watching two of her experimental video projects before digging into Fertile Design. “Fusion Vision” is a lo-fi cartoon music video featuring a guitar-plucking …