Full disclosure: S. Nicole Lane is a participating artist and board member of Purple Window Gallery. Lauren Iacoponi is an artist, curator, and writer who is the co-founder and director of the gallery. Due to COVID-19, her plans of opening up the store-front gallery space have been postponed. As a result, she has launched an at-home initiative for artists all over the world to participate in. This interview took place via email in early April.
S. Nicole Lane: Can you tell us a little bit about the opening of Purple Window Gallery and when you decided to open up your own space?
Lauren Iacoponi: I’ve spent the past several months initiating a project space called Purple Window (coming soon to Avondale, Chicago). I’m the director and co-founder of this upcoming space. Purple Window is artist-led and community-supported. As an artist cooperative, Purple Window is jointly owned and democratically controlled by its members, so I don’t personally view Purple Window as “my own space.” But I did initiate the co-op and invite each of its members to join.
Members include: Naomi Elson, Allen Moore, My Linh Mac, Shane Bowers, Natalie Pivoney, Sarah Dupré, Amy Shelton, Millicent Kennedy, Nicole Lane, Rebecca Griffith, Nico Rizzo, Claire Burke Dain, John Linquist, Giselle Mira-Diaz, Antoinette Viola, Brandon Oswalt, and Ari Norris.
The desire to curate exhibitions and give artists who haven’t had much exposure the opportunity to show in Chicago was a driving force behind this collective. I had the idea to start a co-op in 2019, and have been looking for an affordable storefront ever since. We had our first official team meeting on March 8th and planned to sign our lease in May 2020. However, our immediate plans to sign a lease in Avondale have been postponed due to the financial difficulties surrounding COVID-19. We remain committed to building a community-centric environment that promotes local, emerging, and under-represented artists and makers. While plans have been pushed back, it is our hope to begin exhibiting art within our own communities through the public art initiative Hello Neighbor by Purple Window: a series of satellite exhibitions utilizing domestic and storefront windows to showcase art to the outside world.
SNL: The gallery has co-op members and the physical space is slated to have studio spaces. Can you expand on how you envision this space to operate? Shows? Open studios? Artist talks?
LI: My vision for the space is a collaborative among co-op members where we take turns sharing ideas on the curatorial practice and exhibition design of the gallery. Ideally, different members can spearhead exhibitions based on their interests, expertise, and studio practice. I’m excited to see how the co-op board will operate, almost like a think tank or studio discussion. Some of the most interesting ideas develop in a collaborative environment, engineered by many. I genuinely believe each co-op member possesses a talent, skillset, resource, or perspective that strengthens our collaborative as a whole.
Purple Window will incorporate artist talks and short story/poetry readings into regular gallery programming. I would also like to use our space for benefits and performances. The studios themselves operate more to help cover overhead for the space, which includes rent, electricity, and internet. We’re still figuring out how the studios will play into gallery programming, if at all. Hopefully, we’ll have some really incredible artists renting out the space and creating a sub-community within our co-op to share opportunities with.
SNL: Your passion lies in curating. When did you begin to curate and think about artwork in this way?
LI: Curating is an interest I developed from studio visits and critiques dating back to 2013. I remember being energized by exhibition ideas while in critique with other artists in undergraduate studios. I was always eager to share ideas and many of my suggestions would work their way into my peers’ final work. I would fantasize about exhibitions and sometimes share these concepts. I pitched a couple of proposals during my time at Columbia College, but it was just before graduation so it didn’t go anywhere. I took a year off of school between undergrad and my master’s and began attending more art openings in the city which served as further inspiration.
I co-founded the roving project space Unpacked Mobile Gallery in 2017, with Shane Bowers and Naomi Elson. This was during our Master’s program at Northern Illinois University. Through Unpacked we have exhibited 20 artists in 5 exhibitions.
Each of my curatorial projects has been self-directed, from Unpacked, to Rubberneck Gallery in West Town, and the upcoming exhibition Crafting Our Legacy, which was an open call at Heaven Gallery (slated to open June 12, 2020). Purple Window is a DIY venture I look forward to embarking on.
SNL: Let’s talk about Hello Neighbor. The start of the pandemic halted the opening of the physical gallery but you’ve opened up this idea to include people’s personal homes for satellite exhibitions. How did you come up with this idea?
LI: I had the idea for Hello Neighbor about a week into [Illinois’] shelter in place. I sent an email to the co-op board describing how the past couple of weeks had impacted my life personally and brought life as we knew it to a screeching halt. Most if not all of my close friends were dealing with unemployment, or “underemployment” on account of reduced work from the economic collapse surrounding COVID-19.
Collectively, we’d been through major changes in our social lives where we can no longer hang out with friends, attend art openings, or hold brain sessions in studios or coffee shops. All plans and gatherings were put on hold. Some of us were isolated. Many of us fear for our health and safety, and that of our loved ones.
In these difficult times, I try to remain motivated. Active when able, and contemplating ideas when seemingly exhausted by anxiety.
In the email I wrote: “Overwhelmed by life, I decided to take a walk around my Avondale neighborhood. On this sunny spring day, I did not find myself walking alone. Families, couples, runners (both slow and fast), could be found on every street. We kept our distance as we passed, but many waved hello. There were people sitting on their porches, front steps, and benches, all looking for something to brighten their day. On my walk, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we can do to get things started with Purple Window. I’ve been trying to get a co-op together for almost a year now. We cannot rightfully convene at this time, but we can still reach people with our art. While it’s completely obvious why we named our co-op “Purple Window”, (the window panes of our “pending exhibition space” are purple) the name seemed to jump out at me. Let’s use our windows to showcase work. This could be an ongoing curatorial project during the C-19 shutdown. I would like to outline the glass of our windows with purple paint or purple tape, and exhibit artwork within the windowpane. We can ask each co-op member to exhibit work within their windows, and potentially invite more artists, curators, and friends to provide windows to do the same.”
From this initial email, we expanded on the idea and began outreach through social media and correspondence.
SNL: How do you hope Hello Neighbor will instill hope and positivity for people in Chicago and beyond?
LI: Purple Window is helping to nurture communities while connecting people all over the world. Hours after posting our initiative to social media North Carolina artist Meredith Haggerty had already taken action and installed an art piece within her window. Meredith emailed me a photo of her work with the message “Thank you so much for this heartwarming prompt.”
Though we cannot go to many places at this time, Hello Neighbor promotes responsible exploration through social distancing and allows people to experience art outside of a gallery setting or online space while getting exercise and fresh air. Hello Neighbor helps to create social bonds among participants and viewers. It is my hope that each exhibition entertains viewers and brings joy to the community. Our public art initiative serves to improve physical, mental, and social well-being during this difficult time in history.
SNL: How can people participate in Hello Neighbor? Anything else you want to add?
LI: Purple Window exhibitions will take place across the United States in Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, California, Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, and New York. Exhibitions will take place outside of the US in England, France, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia.
Hello Neighbor by Purple Window is an open call. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how you can get involved. Follow our project on instagram @purplewindowgallery Check out Purple Window’s blog.
Featured Image: “Life Inside” by Millicent Kennedy and Michael Chambers. The image captures a view from the outside of a building looking upwards at three windows with shadows of people in each frame. The images are made from tracing paper, thread, and sheer curtains. Photo by Amy Shelton.
S. Nicole Lane is a visual artist and writer based on the South Side. Her work can be found on Playboy, Broadly, Rewire, i-D and other corners of the internet, where she discusses sexual health, wellness, and the arts. She is also an editorial associate for the Chicago Reader. Follow her on Twitter. Photo by Jordan Levitt.