Above a Singer Sewing shop, through a non-descript green door, and up a staircase, you will find the home of Green Lantern Projects. Serving as both a domestic and public space, this apartment transforms to become a multi-faceted realm, housing the Green Lantern Gallery, The Paper Cave Bookstore, The Green Lantern Press, and The Corpse Performance Space– all in one. From printing books, to hosting lectures, to curating shows on topics ranging from humanities to sciences, Green Lantern Projects hopes to serve as a dynamic space of confluence in a speculative and appreciative environment.
I sat down with founding director Caroline Picard and Devin King at their living room table, speaking of how they both met my Uncle at a wedding, why books will never go out of print, and the hopeful intentions of Green Lantern Projects. The next day I attended “100 Birthdays: Reading and Performances In Celebration of John Cage”, co-curated by Jessica Speer and Meghan McGrath, a slew of tribute performances to John Cage, complete with 100 cupcakes and candles lit while we sang ‘happy birthday’ in our heads, in true John Cage fashion – “centered within ourselves where we actually are”.
I was able to see the transformation from apartment to performance space firsthand, as the shared domestic and public space rendered a feeling of familiarity and of approachability. The ease with which our conversation flowed could be a testament to the unhurried feel of the space, as a collaborative realm of print, performance, and press under the care of dwellers Caroline and Devin.
Amanda Mead: How long have you been in Chicago?
Caroline Picard: 8 or 9 years. I moved here from San Francisco where my folks were from. I was always kind of antsy to leave the West Coast. I think it’s that idea of your ‘parent’s home,’ wanting to move somewhere that belongs to you, where you can define yourself on your own term. Plus this city feels much older to me than the Bay Area. It’s tied up in all this American history, with brick, and seasons. California is like a place of new beginnings, the farthest West you can go — I think because I didn’t grow up here I’ve always wanted to trace something back, to reconnect with a history that isn’t really mine somehow. I’ve always had a fantasy about America too. I was born in Tokyo and grew up in Asia, so industrial warehouses and big sprawling suburbs have always teased at my imagination. Growing up, I used to watch The Wonder Years and it made me salivate . Which is so weird. Anyway, after college I moved to San Francisco where my mom lived, then to Philly for a brief stint, and then back to SF. I was applying to MFA programs in painting and the Art Institute took me to get a second undergrad, basically. I was only there for a semester at first, but SAIC was the reason for my coming.
AM: Did you open this space initially as an apartment gallery, or did you have the paper press in mind as well?
CP: While living in San Francisco a good friend and roommate kept talking about how we could start a magazine. We kept kicking the idea around, but every time we got into it and crunched numbers it seemed really daunting. How to deal with distribution, how to get the initial funds; we didn’t really have a clue or even a way to begin. When I decided I was going to stay in Chicago after my first year, I ended up finding my loft apartment (where my husband, Devin King, and I still live). At that point I called Nick and said, “Hey, want to do that press idea?” And we did – the press and the gallery started at the same time. I’ve always been interested in creating an interdisciplinary project, and since Nick and I had been having a lot of conversations in that same vein, it made sense. That was 2005. It took us about a year before the books came out.
AM: I noticed on your webpage in your mission statement you mentioned the ‘ecology’ of running a creative community – and you’re the Executive Director?
CP: I tend to go with Founding Director or Senior Editor. One of the things I like to pay attention to with non-commercial artist-run spaces, like The Green Lantern, is how much or how little they follow administrative protocol. So, for instance, while I’m probably technically the Executive Director, I’ve never been comfortable with that term. In my mind it’s a title that’s inextricably linked to a financial agenda of some kind. Which I would say my husband Devin – he curates our public events and is the poetry editor for the press – are particular about not having. We are more interested in projects that are both interesting and, for whatever reason, stand outside a commercial market. Part of that interest has led us to focus on the various ways in which different mediums intersect; for instance, how do poetry, literature, performance, and visual art cross-wire? That’s where we get excited — and of course it means we have a lot of different projects going on at the same time.
AM: Devin, How did you get involved with Green Lantern Projects?
Devin King: I know Caroline from undergrad days, and when I moved to Chicago 5 years ago, I ended up submitting a book for the press to put out. She ended up putting it out, and through that process we ended up becoming closer, closer and closer friends, eventually getting married. When she wanted to expand the idea of the press and gallery, it seemed natural for us to team up–our ideas about work are similar, but we have different interests in how those ideas get played out–I being, generally, more interested in poetry, performance, and music and her being, generally, more interested in fiction, painting, and dialogue around art.
AM: And you act as a director of sorts for the performance space element of ‘The New Corspe’ – what sort of events do you provide this space for?
DK: Esoteric making on a small scale.
AM: How do you balance the gallery, press, bookstore and performance space?
DK: It’s all the same project really, and I decided a few years ago that I was only going to pursue projects that I was really pumped about–whether as an individual or as a representative of Green Lantern Projects. It’s pretty simple, I get up everyday and there’s something awesome to get done and I do it.
CP: I think it is all pretty holistic and everything we do is done on a small scale: the bookstore exists on-line. I probably mail out book orders once a week. The press admin stuff is the on-going constant; there is always an email to send out, a book to proof, design to work out. And then Devin and I have informal meetings constantly, figuring out what’s coming up on the calendar and what projects we want to commit to. Like I said, he runs the performance space and curates all the events we have. He’s also the poetry editor for the press. I like poetry, but I’m not confident about judging it.
AM: I feel the same way – I have no basis of critique.
CP: Right, when I get totally wowed and blown away by it that’s great, but I don’t trust myself editing poetry the way he does. Devin is also a poet and I’ve responded to some of his work in the past — usually we end up having a much more literal conversation about location and syntax. The fluidity of poetry is something that’s still hard for me to talk about concretely. I work with authors on more fiction oriented or essayistic books. That’s where my comfort zone is, which makes sense given that I also write fiction.
AM: You publish your own art books too, right? Text and image?
CP: Yes, yeah I do. I don’t publish them through our press though, and I don’t do it very often. Since The Green Lantern is a non-profit, I’m prohibited to use it as a self-serving organization. I like maintaining that line, to keep my solo work separate from my public, administrative practices. I think it helps me compartmentalize my expectations. It’s like in my own work I have a lot of control, whereas as an organizer I try to create a structure that is present but open, so that people who come to an event, for instance, can inhabit our space freely, while nevertheless having a clear sense of purpose, like why they are there and why we are hosting such an event in the first place. With the press it’s similar in so far as we only take on projects that we would publish as-is, and yet, we still spend as much as a year working on a manuscript with an author. Even if nothing about the original manuscript changes, conversations about what could change or wouldn’t, shouldn’t change have always helped me better understand the book as a whole. In some way, I think that’s another reason I resist publishing my own work. I like that process. Last year I published a book of mine, Psycho Dream Factory, although I would consider more like an art object. It was an editioned piece in an art show called Happiness Machines at Roxaboxen. The book was like a catalogue in one sense; it contained a number of images of work in the show. At the same it also contained a collection of short stories about celebrities — like a story about Michael Jackson texting Orlan after he faked his death. That sort of thing.
AM: You’ve moved spaces, from this space to another and back here again? How long have you been established in this space?
CP: Its funny to think about how much this space has moved, or how many different iterations there have been. Maybe it makes sense since The Green Lantern was named after a superhero. There are different generations of superheroes, you know? So when it started, it started here, and I was living in the back of the apartment and had different roommates periodically, and this whole front space was empty, acting as an exhibition area and venue for public programs. Then we got shut down by the city in 2009. It was closed for 6 months as I finished grad school and we reopened a storefront on Chicago Avenue, for about six months. There was a team of people — that’s when Devin King came on board and started curating events.Abigail Satinsky was curating most of the exhibitions, Zach Dodson launched our on-line bookstore, The Paper Cave and Bryce Dwyer was our first Holon Resident. Even though it was an exciting time, and I’m amazed by the incredible cultural events that we managed to pull off so often — I think we had about two events a week, plus book releases, and art exhibits; it was a lot.It’s no wonder that after six months the overhead was too high. We closed that storefront and more or less disbanded,except of course that Devin and I still lived together in the original Green Lantern space on Milwaukee Ave. As he and I started to regroup, we started thinking about its potential as an event space.
AM: So your living room serves as the performance space as well?
CP: Yeah, we transform this room. We move this table and have a bunch of chairs that we pull out.
AM: How does the interchange between a domestic and public space work – how do you facilitate events while balancing this sort of setting?
CP: I do feel there is something about this as a domestic and public space – it’s nice to facilitate and invite these experiences, there is something inherently familiar about them because it’s in a house, same with the books, there is something familiar. It’s all about integrating those experiences. At the same time, trying to show good work – whether poets who have been refining their craft for 34 years, or Anne Elizabeth Moore’s project in Cambodia, or the collection of essays we published by Matthew Goulish. Devin and I are both intent on creating a dialogue around those things, introducing people from different disciplines and schools of thought. Then again there is something about that happening in your house that it’s immediately friendly, or some way where you’re vulnerable first; maybe that helps visitors relax too.
DK: This is a hard question, because it’s something I’ve always done–whether throwing shows in my basement, having roommates set up recording studios in our house, or just having people over for dinner. You know, we can’t really do big things, or messy things, but it’s just right for other types of things–small lectures or quiet music. The form of it generates the kind of content people pitch to us, and the sort of work we look for.
CP: It has been really nice doing stuff here. It has allowed us to have a lot of conversations about how the different facets of the Green Lantern work together and what the future of the press is. One of the things that I’ve found is that I feel as though I’ve started to realize that a lot of my ethic, aesthetic, and approach has come out of growing up in Chicago. Obviously I didn’t grow up here, but in terms of my professional development and sense of context, Chicago has been hugely influential. There is grassroots energy here, people build their own culture and take pride in working hard. There is a lot of support for starting projects and individuals are encouraged to take risks and experiment. Then too, I’ve always gotten the sense that there is a socialist undercurrent, and that combined with the presence of so many academic institutions leads to its own unique cultural backdrop. I think the Green Lantern operates directly in relation to that; sometimes I think if we moved, the project would be totally out of sorts. It would have to redefine itself all over again. Of course, we’re not planning to move, but I think it’s interesting to think about because, in many ways, it’s probably the first experience I’ve really had of culturally identifying with a place. We moved around so much when I was little, I never really had that before.
AM: How did you come up with the name ‘The New Corpse’?
CP: When it was on Chicago Avenue it was called The Corpse, and when we moved it back here it became The New Corpse. I forget exactly what is alludes to, Devin found the name, but within the Green Lantern mythology, there is a top secret black ops sect called ‘The Corpse.’ I also sort of love how, for me at least, it inadvertently references Antonin Artuad. His Theater of Cruelty ideas where the plague epidemic set this stage for a perfect transcendent experience, and then I feel like there’s something about calling a performance space The Corpse that makes me think of that aftermath — what happens afterwards, post-transcendence, post death, when all you’re left with is a kind of corrupt, transforming or unstable material.
Check out the slideshow of photos from 100 Birthdays: Readings and Performances in Celebration of John Cage, courtesy of Caroline Picard.
For more information on upcoming events and other inquiries, visit The New Corpse website.