All posts filed under: Interviews

Unreasoned Scores 1/6: Katie Chung and José Santiago Pérez

The following article is part of Unreasoned Scores, a series of six articles edited by Fabiola Tosi, Juelle Daley, and Stephanie Koch, the 2019-2020 HATCH Curatorial Residents with Chicago Artist’s Coalition (CAC). When social distancing posed a challenge to building community between the artist residents of the program, Daley, Koch, and Tosi created a structure for artists’ interviews which asked: How can we be isolated together?  Through a series of exercises, curators encouraged artists—paired together based on artistic practice, experience, and personalities—to connect through a series of interviews with one another. The goal was to foster a human-scale connection between artists, beyond the hyper-mediated space of online meetings. With this experimental editorial project, the curators seek to investigate “How does one archive ephemeral works which may not fit the formats of a traditional archival record?” Katie Chung and José Santiago Pérez, edited by Fabiola Tosi When meeting someone for the first time, maybe even after a few conversations, you would get to know a person through the lens of how they describe themselves. We introduce …

Sweet Bitter Love: Interview with Jeffrey Gibson

Sweet Bitter Love, presenting artist Jeffrey Gibson’s reflections on representations of Indigenous peoples in cultural institutions, is now on display at the Newberry Library through September 18, 2021.  Responding to a series of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century portraits by Eldridge Ayer Burbank in the Newberry collection, Gibson (a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and of Cherokee descent) refutes the stereotypical imagery that has reinforced pernicious myths about Indigenous people for centuries. As he enters into critical dialogue with the collections of the Newberry and also the Field Museum, Gibson’s works attest to the resilience of Indigenous cultures. The exhibition is part of Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40, which is organized by the Smart Museum of Art in collaboration with exhibition, programmatic, and research partners across Chicago. Analú López (Guachichil/Xi´úi), Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian at the Newberry, recently spoke with Gibson about his evolution as an artist, the challenges of presenting the complexity of the past through art, and how his work might surface silenced …

My Linh Mac: Life After F-1

All artists graduating from institutions experience the anxiety and fear of what comes next, entering “the real world” and trying to figure out a lucrative career path (in a not so lucrative field). However, most artists have the option to work outside of their field of study. This is not the case for international artists (F-1 Students) who have one year to find employment in a relevant position under Optional Practical Training (OPT). Following a single year of work, foreign artists are expected to gain enough professional experience to submit a work visa to stay and work in the United States. Moreover, most international students pay 2 to 3 times more tuition compared to domestic students. Chicago-based Vietnamese artist My Linh Mac (Millie) is intimately familiar with the challenges following F-1 Status: the immediate search for employment and visa sponsorship, visa application fees, lawyer fees, the pressure to demonstrate her value as a foreign worker within the United States – the list goes on. Mac is originally from Vietnam and pursued an education in Singapore, …

Featured Image: Stephen Signa-Aviles stands in his studio at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is wearing dark jeans and a dark, short-sleeved hooded sweatshirt, and a black face mask with a white graphic pattern. He looks up and into the camera. His studio space is narrow and cluttered. There are various works in progress, as well as shelving units with paints, books, and other materials. Photo courtesy of Stephen Signa-Aviles.

Working From Home: Four Art Students Reflect on Making in a Pandemic

During the summer of 2020, with COVID-19 cases rapidly rising, it became clear that higher education would have to look different in the near future. There was a lot of press coverage about how colleges and universities could, would, and should function during a global pandemic. How could it be safe to bring tens of thousands of people to one place, many of them living three or four to a space? How could students continue their education under these stressful conditions? What type of accommodations should be made to allow for those who want to return to campus to do so safely? What about fiscal solvency? A lot of conversations and articles about the reopening of college campuses were about economics, the ways a virtual or hybrid model could greatly alter or damage traditional ideals of higher education, and the exploitation of professorial labor (both tenured and nontenured). The University of Illinois system originally announced in mid-June that Fall 2020 would be a hybrid model of education, with in-person and online classes. This model was …

Learning and Making: Reparations for the Earth

Learning and Making invites teachers, students, artists, and people who are all three at once to explore the radical possibilities that exist at the intersection of making and learning. Learning is the act of deepening human experience and increasing human agency. Many artists work as educators and consider this work as part of their practice. Arts programs in and out of schools foster intergenerational communities that not only generate critical contemporary art but act as laboratories for radical experiments in power, care, and collaboration.  The Reparations for the Earth Curriculum, created by the Young Cultural Stewards team at the Park District, offers strategies for sowing seeds of creativity and collective power that transcend discipline. Over Zoom, I spoke with the two program stewards, Irina Zadov and Najee Zaid-Searcy, and Teaching Artist, Juliet Montelongo to better understand the foundations of their collective practice. Our conversation touched on returning to art as an experience of personal healing, putting reparations into practice, learning from nature, and the nuances of flocking.   This interview has been edited for clarity and …

The Door Ajar: A Conversation with Leah Ke Yi Zheng

My friendship with Leah Ke Yi Zheng (Instagram) started rather serendipitously. She was a stranger sitting next to me at a communal table inside Intelligentsia Coffee on East Randolph Street. I somehow initiated a conversation, and that was how we became friends, without knowing that we would soon both join the graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; I would study art history and she, painting and drawing.  As a curator, I cherish a personal conversation with my artist friends in which we also chat about life––sometimes a bizarre dream from the night before or favorite foods from our hometowns. But in the grand scheme of things, art reflects our lives. Over the years, Leah has come to use Painting to pose a variety of formal and personal inquiries about objecthood, perception, and the nature of difference. Despite a transformation in styles and subjects, her paintings continue to mirror their maker’s personality: calm, contemplative, but uncompromising and fearless. Coinciding with Leah’s two-person show with David Hartt, Memory’s Great Vertigo at Paris …

Celeste Malvar Stewart fitting a model in her Columbus, Ohio atelier. Photo by Jake Holler.

Celeste Malvar-Stewart: Zero-Waste Haute Couture in Columbus, Ohio

Celeste Malvar-Stewart has been a pioneer of sustainable and ethical fashion for 25 years, creating zero-waste bespoke felted dresses made with alpaca and sheep fibers from her appointment-only Columbus studio. She knows the names and can recognize the fleece from each individual alpaca and sheep. When I made a felted scarf with her last year, she showed me how Sugar has tighter corkscrew curls, while Gandalf is looser and fluffier. Celeste works directly with local Ohio farmers to source her fibers and is proud to be part of a fashion revolution where it’s becoming a statement to re-wear pieces. Prices range from $800-$1,500 for one-of-a-kind cocktail dresses and up to a few thousand for wedding dresses.  “When there’s that value and connection with the animals and your dress, you’re so not going to throw it away,” she says. With a minimal carbon footprint and without relying on imported fabrics, she’s creating farm-to-dress fashion. With her atelier, Celeste is more of an artist than a designer in the traditional sense. Her dresses are seamless because she’s …

Featured image: (Mariano's mural) Color Me South Side, 2019 by Dorian Sylvain. A crowd of people stand in front of a colorful mural depicting several people. Photo by Chris Devins.

Dorian Sylvain: Muralist, Teaching Artist, Curator, and Community Planner

As a long term resident of South Side Chicago, Dorian Sylvain‘s artwork is no stranger to myself or others. I first met Dorian in 2015 at Mana Contemporary during the ChiArts visual arts senior thesis show. Five years later, I would reintroduce myself to Dorian and proceed with asking her if she needed an artist assistant. While I am still learning from Dorian, she has taught me much thus far and has even encouraged me to take on different mediums within my artwork. It is an immense pleasure to interview Dorian on her practice, career, and what’s next down the line. Alkebuluan Merriweather: Who is Dorian Sylvain today as opposed to 40 years ago? Dorian Sylvain: Today I am a more confident artist and certainly a more experienced artist. Through the years, I evolved my practice, relationships, and have expanded on the dreams of a young artist growing up on Chicago’s South Side. In my early 20’s I recognized my commitment to working as a teaching artist, receiving my first grant to operate a free arts …

My First Chicago Film: Bri Clearly

Chicago has long been a place for indie creators to get together and make something beautiful. The filmmaking community in the city is one filled with ideas galore and the determination to make it happen. Throughout the years, we’ve seen many writers, directors, and producers start and grow their careers here, always recognizing Chicago in the process, even if they move to the coasts to pursue entertainment.  Chicago Made Shorts, a new platform hosted on Instagram TV, provides a hub for said filmmakers, simply looking for a place for their work to get seen. Imani Davis, Founder and Creative Director of Chicago Made Shorts, is deeply curious about how people make their way through the film scene in Chicago and get that first short film made. What was the impact of that first project made here? Who was involved? Why Chicago? In this series, Imani dives deep into these questions as well as the stories and beginnings of five different Chicago-based filmmakers. Through these interviews, she’ll make her way through topics such as making your way …

Image: A photo of Tonina Saputo sitting on a rug while posing with her guitar. Photo by Danny Zones, courtesy of the musician and the photographer.

The Undefined: Tonina Saputo

Tonina Saputo is an out-of-the-box musician who doesn’t know how to exactly define herself or her music. Playing the upright bass, she might tell you she’s folk, but she could change her mind. Either way, she knows how to pull a crowd here in St. Louis, Missouri.  “This is my third,” “This is my fourth Tonina concert,” or, “I’ve lost count,” are pretty common phrases one might hear entering a Tonina set.  I went to my first (socially-distanced) Tonina concert in a sea of seasoned vets in the summer of 2020. I had never heard of her, but like the honest concert go-er I am, I made sure to listen to her music before. I was transfixed with her bold tones and spicy flare—and not because she sings in Spanish, but because her Latin music techniques are obviously brought into her English songs. She definitely brings a unique song and style to the St. Louis music scene, which she describes as “supportive” and “close-knit”. Her albums and singles go back and forth between strong alternative-like …

Two poster designs by screen printer Jay Ryan. The poster on the left contains two bears on bicycles holding tacos. The poster on the right says "I will hug you in the future."

Chicago Archives Dive: Chicago Music Posters with Jay Ryan

Chicago is home to a long tradition of printmaking. In this video, Jay Ryan, the artist behind Chicagoland’s print studio The Bird Machine, talks about his experiences learning his craft at Screwball Press, another print studio in Chicago celebrated for its innovative production of rock music posters since the early 1990s. This video was produced by artist Ryan Edmund Thiel of Sixty Inches from Center, in collaboration with Chicago Collections Consortium and Art Design Chicago Now.

Two poster designs by screen printer Alexandrea Pataky. The poster on the left contains a bird, a rabbit, and a fox all holding instruments. The poster on the right is an illustrated gig poster for The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.

Chicago Archives Dive: Chicago’s Screenprinting Community with Alexandrea Pataky

From scientific illustration to rock music posters, artist Alexandrea Pataky, owner of High Lonesome Print, talks about her work, the screen printing community in Chicago, and being taught to print by Steve Walters of Screwball Press. This video was created in collaboration with Art Design Chicago and Chicago Collections Consortium, and was produced by Ryan Edmund Thiel.

[placeholder image]

Beyond the Page: Quenna Lené Barrett

“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 Quenna Lené Barrett — actor, educator, writer, director, activist, scholar, and lifelong Chicagoan. We spoke in late November about her ongoing project, “Re-Writing the Declaration,” and its recent production; how her many forms of work inform each other; and using applied theater as a tool for civic participation and Black liberation.  Follow Barrett @quennalene (Twitter, Instagram) and @quenna.lene (Facebook). This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Marya Spont-Lemus: After getting to experience aspects of Re-Writing the Declaration as a project over the last few years, it was extra exciting to see the production of it earlier this month. Now that a few weeks have passed, how are you feeling about it? Quenna Lené Barrett: Still feeling really good! I was directing two shows at once — Re-Writing the Declaration and another one, in this virtual format — and then had other projects come up. …

Imagen de portada: CeaseDays lleva un gorro negro, una chaqueta negra con una sudadera con capucha negra debajo y jeans negros. Tiene las manos metidas en los bolsillos del jean. Está frente de un mural de graffiti con el color del base negro y letras de color morado y amarillo.

El Nido Suroeste: Una entrevista con CeaseDays

Brighton Park, Back of the Yards (o el Barrio de las Empacadoras), y McKinley Park son vecindarios en el lado Suroeste de Chicago que están agrupados con tanta frecuencia que la prensa les ha dado una reputación y narrativa similar. No siempre es buena. Hoy estos vecindarios todavía enfrentan la violencia, la pobreza, y más recientemente, la gentrificación. Con llamar la atención a las mentes creativas que enriquecen a estas comunidades, me gustaría desafiar la idea que la violencia es la única cosa que tienen que ofrecer. En esta serie, “El Nido Suroeste,” espero celebrar y reconocer a estos artistas y compartir con ustedes sus perspectivos sobre los barrios donde trabajan o viven. Esta entrevista cubre el lapso de un año. La parte 1 de esta entrevista se completó en octubre de 2019, cuando me reuní con el artista CeaseDays (Cesar Diaz) en Simone’s, uno de los muchos lugares donde trabaja y toca como DJ. CeaseDays, puede ser un nombre familiar si fuiste a UIC, cuando era estudiante, dirigió el programa de radio, “Thumpin’ Thursday.” …

Featured Image: CeaseDays is wearing a black beanie, a black windbreaker with a black hoodie underneath, and black jeans. He has his hands tucked in his jean pockets. He is standing in front of a graffiti mural with a black background and purple and yellow letters.

The Southwest Nest: An Interview with CeaseDays

Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, and McKinley Park are neighborhoods on the Southwest Side of Chicago that are bundled together so often that they are given a similar reputation and narrative by the media. It isn’t always a good one. Today these neighborhoods still face violence, poverty, and more recently, gentrification. I would like to challenge the idea that violence is the only thing these neighborhoods have to offer by shining a light on the creative minds that enrich them. In this series, “The Southwest Nest,” I hope to celebrate and recognize these artists and share with you their perspectives of the neighborhoods they either work in or call home. This interview covers the span of a year. For Part 1 of this interview, which took place in October of 2019, I met up with artist CeaseDays (Cesar Diaz) at Simone’s, one of the many places where he performs and DJs. CeaseDays may sound like a familiar name if you went to UIC. As a student he ran the radio show, “Thumpin’ Thursdays.” You …

Chicago Archives Dive: Zine Festivals with Oscar Arriola

Oscar Arriola, a collector, curator, and photographer based in Chicago, talks about the power of preservation while also delving into the history of Chicago zine festivals. In particular, he talks about his role as an organizer of ZINEMercado, an annual outdoor festival devoted to zines and other DIY publications that takes place at Comfort Station in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood. This video was created in collaboration with Art Design Chicago and Chicago Collections Consortium, and was produced by Ryan Edmund Thiel. __Featured Image: A compilation of images of posters and promotional images from ZINEmercado. Images courtesy of Oscar Arriola.

Riva Lehrer: GOLEM GIRL and Pandemic Portraiture

“All portraits are fragments,” says Riva Lehrer, “it’s representing someone through a single moment in their life; so any portrait is an act of reassembly, you get these clues and you try to reassemble them into some view of the person.” In a way, this is what I was doing as I read Lehrer’s new book GOLEM GIRL: a memoir: scouring her words for insight into what makes her the person she is today.  ‘Author’ is just one of many hyphens in Lehrer’s well-established artistic career. She teaches at Northwestern University and she curates, but she is perhaps best known for her portraits of people “whose physical embodiment, sexuality, or gender identity have long been stigmatized.” As a Disabled artist herself, Lehrer has a unique ability to capture a person’s form in an honest and expressive way through her evocative works. I had the pleasure of speaking with her to discuss her background as well as current projects. Lehrer’s artistic talents are familial.  Courtney Graham: [In your memoir,] you talk about your mother, Carole, being …

Chicago Archives Dive: Underground Publishing with Julia Arredondo

Did you know Chicago is a mecca of underground publishing? In this video, Julia Arredondo—artist entrepreneur and graduate of Columbia College Chicago—talks about the political influence of Chicago’s zine culture while also sharing more about her zine product lines, including the counterculture entity Vice Versa Press and the more spiritual “Bedroom Botánica” Curandera Press.This video was created in collaboration with Art Design Chicago and Chicago Collections Consortium, and was produced by Ryan Edmund Thiel. ___Featured Image: A compilation of images of covers of zines by Julia Arredondo. Each cover has a different design–one with colorful flowers, illustrated collages, intermixed with text. Images courtesy of Julia Arredondo.

Open Sheds Used for What?: An interview with Cecilia & Marina Resende Santos

Open Sheds Used for What? conjures more questions than answers, which is precisely where its magic comes from—that, and its devotion in spirit and design to collaboration, community, and experimentation. The brainchild of collaborators and twin sisters Cecilia and Marina Resende Santos, Open Sheds is a nomadic project that is itinerant and ephemeral, springing forth from an octagonal metal frame originally built by Jesús Hilario Reyes and Leah Solomon for their performance at the opening of “Shut Up Stone Mountain,” at Co-Prosperity on June 7, 2019. This deceptively simple frame is more than a ‘blank canvas,’ larger and more expansive than a substrate that can be built upon. It is a seed, it is potential, it is what extends from it and out of it, with or without it.  In its simplest terms, Open Sheds is a structure that has been built and deconstructed in three different locations around Chicago, with various artists altering, adding to, and transforming its form through intervention, performance, and other means. At least 15 artists have been involved with the …