Monthly Archives: July 2009

Nicole Mitchell: Creation, Culture and Community


interview by Damon Locks

I have had the opportunity to perform alongside flutist Nicole Mitchell on many occasions in the group Exploding Star Orchestra. We generally set up right next to each other on stage so we can work together and bounce ideas off each other during a performance. This has given me the rare opportunity to enjoy her work from a mere few inches away. As a musician, she is an incredible talent. Her tone is lyrical and soulful, like a beautiful story that should be told again and again. Her musical intuition is always on point. Her achievements and accolades are many (Downbeat magazine’s “Rising Star Flutist 2005-2008, and awarded “Jazz Flutist of the Year 2008” by the Jazz Journalist Association, to name but a couple). She fronts the Black Earth Ensemble and Black Earth Strings. She is a tireless musician and a hard working mom as well. One of the great things about Chicago is that there is a wealth of talent and creativity and sometimes you are lucky enough to be standing right next to it.

What encouraged you to pursue music?

My mother’s artwork, the wonder of creation, and my love for the sound of the flute.

I started playing the viola in 4th grade. I chose it to be different, because everyone else wanted the violin.  I was the only viola so  I  had learned how to read music, because there was no hiding! Then in 5th grade, they introduced us to the wind instruments and it was an instant thing when I heard that sound. I asked, “What is that?!”  and the answer was “It’s a flute, stupid.” I wanted to play it so bad, but my parents were like, “We already bought this viola and you’re going to play it.”  For four years I begged and bothered them for a flute.  I had entered a drawing contest that was in the TV Guide, so some artist lady came to the house to talk to my parents about how I could be a gifted visual artist and they should pay a bunch of money for me to take art lessons.  They were thrilled and asked me if I would like to do that. That was my chance. “Could you take that same money you’d pay for art lessons and get me a flute and some lessons?”  Bingo!  So then I was playing flute and viola.  I still practiced viola and played in orchestra. That same year, when I’d only been playing a few months, there were auditions for all-city orchestra.  I auditioned on flute and viola and ended up making 1st chair viola.  I was miserable, looking at those flute players having a great time.  I went in the back room and I found the judges’ sheets on the floor of the bandroom.  I was shocked to discover that I had made 2nd chair flute, but they decided to put me 1st chair viola because they needed me there.   At that very moment I decided that I was NOT going to play viola again. So I stopped.  Too bad…it would have been nice to continue on. It’s interesting how experiences shape you.

When you are working on your music do you think in terms of genre?

I really don’t think much about genre.  There are different musical styles that swim in my veins, that I’ve been attracted to and absorb. They subconsciously influence my creativity. I consider myself to be a “creative musician,” because with “creative” music people don’t have a specific expectation and they can be open to receive what you bring.

As a member of the musical community of Chicago you work in a medium and within an idiom that has a rich history and tradition. Do you feel a responsibility to respond to that tradition and work within that tradition?

Chicago does have a rich legacy in jazz and creative music and I definitely feel that my work is part of that continuum. As a musician and composer, it’s not so much a feeling of responsibility, but a spiritual connection to those musicians that have come before me. My responsibility is to be myself and express my own voice. This is really clear also for members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective that I’m a part of (that will have its 45th birthday in 2010). The AACM is one of the great entities that has shaped musical history in Chicago and internationally, through the ideas of supportive community, self-help, and the encouragement to create original music. I do feel a sense of responsibility to carry the torch for the AACM, because many musicians before me struggled to make a name for it, and because of all the gifts of guidance that mentors like George Lewis, Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Arveeayl Ra, Ed Wilkerson, Douglas Ewart and Ernest Dawkins have given me and others. One of the great things about the AACM is the relationship between so many generations playing music together, with members in their twenties to members reaching toward eighty. I just recently was named chairperson, and our new executive board is all younger folks, including cellist Tomeka Reid: treasurer, drummer Mike Reed: vice chair, vocalist Saalik Ziyad: secretary and percussionist Coco Elysses: Dean of AACM School. It’s a big change and I feel a heavy responsibility to serve the organization, its members, our neighboring communities that are music-starved and to keep getting AACM music out there so the world can hear it.

How important is recorded material versus playing live?

When music is recorded, I feel a sense of completion with it, because evidence has been made that it exists.  It represents a moment in time captured of a musician or project that allows us to know and go back.  It creates a sense of history.  Honestly I think recorded music can never be as special as live music though.  Live music is something special between the musicians and the people that were there–something that begins and ends.  There’s a mystery to that.

How do you approach releasing your music?

I started out by making my own label with my life-partner, saxophonist David Boykin.  We put out my first three albums. Since then I’ve realized that it’s good to pass it around, so that other ears can hear your music, so I enjoy working with other labels like Delmark, Greenleaf and Firehouse 12.  It’s good to have a balance. I’m curious how long the CD thing is going to last, and if we’re heading to download as the only answer.  Long story short, I’m open to try new things. It all comes down to sharing the sound and getting it out there.

How has Chicago, as a place or as a musical community, shaped your artistic trajectory?

Chicago has had a huge impact on my life and my art.  I have many childhood memories here, from visiting my grandparents on the southside. I romanticized my mother’s presence here, as she was born and raised in Chicago and she passed when I was a teenager. I never really felt at home anywhere until I made Chicago my home. It was where I needed to be. There’s so much culture here and community.

Is it difficult to survive as a full time musician in Chicago?

I think it’s near impossible anywhere! Most the musicians I know have other jobs and do music because they love it. I’ve been blessed to be a full-time musician, but I never live with any expectations of things being easy, or the same!  Things can change at any moment for better or worse, so I appreciate the positives in the moment.



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Diyan Achjadi: visual artist



I work with prints and multiples, pictures, texts, and objects that can be easily and accurately reproduced through the use of technology, whether a press, a mold, or digital printer.  Prints, (in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, and posters, for instance) have had a crucial role in the normalization of ideologies, while also providing for the possibility of their dismantling.  I am particularly interested in media that is aimed for children (stories and picture books, advertising and toys) and the ways that these media are infused with and perpetuate ideologies. Children’s media is often presented as cute and seemingly innocuous with its simplistic pictures and phrases, yet it is a crucial medium for the transmission of belief systems.


As a child I read a lot of fiction, especially books written for young girls (Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, for instance) where often there is a story that centers around a heroine who gets into and out of a series of scrapes and adventures, defying and breaking expectations. I am interested in the ways that fiction can provide alternatives to dominant narratives, interrogating and subverting our understanding of what is the norm in the world.  I construct my work as a series of fragmentary visual fictions.


The Girl is character that I have worked with over the past few years. When I started working with Girl, she functioned as an avatar to discuss and refer to events that I had only experienced through the filter of the media…accounts of violence, war, and terror that we see and hear on a daily basis through 24-hour news outlets. In the earlier works, she is somewhat passive, detached from the chaos around her. Clad in a simple dress and mary-janes, she is surrounded by a miniaturized pink world, punctuated by bubble-gum cartoon explosions. Armed with plastic guns, it is unclear whether she is the perpetrator, the cause of all this mayhem, a victim, or an observer. In these works, I was interested in looking at the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that militarism is present in day-to-day life, particularly in how objects and patterns that are associated with the military are used in pop culture and fashion, and through their repetition and decontextualization become mere ornaments, seemingly devoid of their original significance. In the more recent works, the Girl surrounded by clones, saluting a flag in their own image. Rallies, marching bands, scout troops, all figure as starting points to question ideas of group affiliations and by extension, definitions of community and national identity.  




The Further Adventures of Girl: Merapi, 30″ x 66″, 2007



The Further Adventures of Girl: Reaching the City, 30″ x 45″, 2007



Dream, Girl, Dream!, 36″ x 90″, 2006



Watch, Girl, Watch!, 36″ x 60″, 2006



We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 33″ x 96″, 2009



We Expected Hysteria (But I Feel Fine), 33″ x 96″, 2009



We Expected Hysteria (They Expected This), 33″ x 96″, 2009



What Have They Done?, 30″ x 75″, 2008



Listen, Girl, Listen!, 36″ x 90″, 2006



Stadium: Warming Up, 30″ x 60″, 2008




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Public Views: A Survey of Police from the Baltimore Washington Metropolitan Area

Ford_Crown_Victoria_Interceptor_DCsurvey coordinated by Damon Locks and Detective Gregg Pemberton

This idea came about when I was working on the WDC issue of Stop Smiling magazine. When brainstorming about our nation’s capital, I thought it would be a great idea to hear from the men and women in blue regarding their feelings about their jobs. With the help of Detective Gregg Pemberton, some questions were put together and inquiries were made. The survey was cut from the issue of Stop Smiling. Luckily, The Population can serve as a venue for such ideas. Here are some thoughts from those sworn to serve and protect.

Officer Joe Gentile – Third District Auto Theft Unit, – MPD

Metropolitan Police Department, WDC, 3-5 years

age: 25-29

race: Caucasian (Non-Hispanic)

gender: Male


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?

Neutral. The only extremes are on the negative side, for the most part. It is very rare to see/read anything about extremely positive views of the police.

What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

The low morale at MPD makes it difficult to be doing your best at work. It takes a strong-willed officer to cut through all that and do the best they can.

How would you change your job to make it better and more effective for you?

I would overhaul recruiting and hiring. The department needs to make you earn the job through testing and interviews. Therefore, you can weed out people  that don’t really want to do the job or are unqualified. The hiring process needs to be more in-depth and challenging like most agencies.

What frustrates you about your job? (Citizens, Criminal Justice System, Discipline, Management, Inability to get things done right, etc.)

The aspects that trouble me the most are poor management and poor training of new recruits. In my opinion, new recruits need to be challenged in the academy and expected to perfrom at a high level throughout. This is not the case. Also, the promotional process needs to be revamped, in the sense that if you are an officer that works in an administrative position for many years (i.e. payroll) and you get promoted, you aren’t sent to lead a squad of patrol officers. They need to promote people to lead what they are skilled at.



Jimmy Paul, Trooper First Class, Executive Protection Section

Maryland State Police, 3-5 years

age: 30-35

race: Asian

gender: Male


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?

Neutral. I think there are an equal number among the public who view the police in a negative light as there are those who see them in a positive light.

What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

It is a combination of what the citizens want the police to do along with what the department wants you to do. The job itself is pretty easy, as in what you are required to do. It is the people involved, both the citizens and the superiors, who make it hard. The citizens want you to lower the crime but do not like being inconvenienced. The superiors want you to lower crime as well, but make you jump through hoops to do it (redundant forms, reports etc).

How would you change your job to make it better and more effective for you?

I would let the officers do the right thing and do their jobs. It may come at the cost of a few complaints from citizens but you can never make everyone happy. At the end of the day, everyone goes home safe. That should be the goal.

What frustrates you about your job? (Citizens, Criminal Justice System, Discipline, Management, Inability to get things done right, etc.)

All of the above. Each aspect that is listed above could be improved upon in my department. They all play a pivotal role in Trooper’s frustrations.



Officer Sarah Yeaw, Officer, Third District Vice Unit, MPD

Metropolitan Police Department, WDC, 1-2 years

age: 25-29

race: Caucasian (Non-Hispanic)

gender: Female


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?

Negatively. It depends where you work but the media puts a lot of negative stuff out, which colors people’s view

What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

In patrol, it’s a lack of resources and personnel to allow officers to do much self-initiated work or investigations. There’s just too few people and too many radio runs to answer, so there’s no time left to really take on any investigations.

What frustrates you about your job? (Citizens, Criminal Justice System, Discipline, Management, Inability to get things done right, etc.)

The juvenile justice system! The vast majority of our part 1 offenses are committed by juveniles. But the vast majority of those who arrested are either given a few months in a halfway house (where they can leave during the day and continue to commit crimes, and also run away multiple times without receiving any further punishment), or they are not even charged at all! They learn very quickly that they can do whatever they want and essentially get away with it. There needs to be much stricter punishments for these kids, or else the crime will continue to rise out of control.



Narcotics Detective

Baltimore City Police Department, 8-10 years

age: 35+

race: Caucasian (Non-Hispanic)

gender: Male


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?

Negatively. It largely depends on the area. Some areas love the police, while others hate them.

What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

The department and politicians lack of support for their officers. Officers are policing with one hand tied behind their backs. This view that the community is always right, demoralizes and de-motivates officers to get involved in fighting crime.

How would you change your job to make it better and more effective for you?

Command staff needs to know that (especially in narcotics) there are going to be complaints. The majority of the people we deal with are felons and don’t want to go to jail. Therefore, don’t always entertain the absurd complaints.

What frustrates you about your job? (Citizens, Criminal Justice System, Discipline, Management, Inability to get things done right, etc.)

Citizens in high crime areas want a crime reduction, yet hate your guts at the same time. This makes for a tough environment to win over popularity. Also, to have multiple cases where criminals with 15+ arrests are still on the street is ridiculous. Inner city juries don’t convict very easily. This is frustrating for police who work hard everyday.



Gregg Pemberton, Detective, Criminal Investigations Division, Seventh District, MPD

Metropolitan Police Department, WDC, 

age: 30-35

race: Caucasian (Non-Hispanic)

gender: Male


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?


What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

Police departments strategies and operational plans are all too often motivated by politics and public outcry, rather than actual time tested policing techniques. This forces officers to constantly be “reactionary” to the demands of the public, preventing them from aggressive patrols and quality investigations, the bread and butter of crime prevention.

How would you change your job to make it better and more effective for you?

I would allow the officers to dictate how they would like to address the given issues in their area or their concentration. Crime trends and criminal activity changes so quickly, that only the officers with their boots on the street know the best way to attack a particular problem. All too often, officials develop plans that please citizens concerns, but don’t address the root of the problem.

What frustrates you about your job? (Citizens, Criminal Justice System, Discipline, Management, Inability to get things done right, etc.)

It just seems that bad guys never get any punishment around here. Even violent, armed felons can walk away with little or no jail time. Then when they’re released back out on the street to commit more crimes, the citizens blame the police for not doing anything. The public sometimes doesn’t benefit from our hard work and also doesn’t always understand the criminal justice system. This makes people quick to blame police for spikes in crime.



Officer Matthew Mahl, PSA 302 (Columbia Heights) Patrol

Metropolitan Police Department, WDC, 3-5 years

age: 25-29

race: Caucasian (Non-Hispanic)

gender: Male


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?

Very negatively.

What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

Over the last several years, the police department has started to cater to the citizens of our patrol areas. It seems that management in an attempt to gather public support forgets that we are running a police department. At times the police department chooses to do things that have no effect on crime, but satisfies the public. This hinders my job greatly.



Travis Eagan Officer Patrol (FTO)

Metropolitan Police Department, WDC, 3-5 years

age: 35+

race: Caucasian (Non-Hispanic)

gender: Male


On the average, how do you think the public views the police?


What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents individual police officers from being able to do their job as best as possible?

The politics of this city and the powers that are allowing the citizens to run things.

How would you change your job to make it better and more effective for you?

Do away with the added footbeats and put the officers back in cruisers and allow them to do there job as they are trained to do. The foot beats are to appease the citizens and do little to fight crime.

What frustrates you about your job? (Citizens, Criminal Justice System, Discipline, Management, Inability to get things done right, etc.)

Citizens’ ability to twist the arm of Management.


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Sonnenzimmer: visual artists

sonnenzimmer_portraitSonnenzimmer is a Chicago-based art and print studio owned and operated by Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher. The creative duo emerged from the local cultural cornerstones, The Birdmachine and Punk Planet magazine. Truly inspired by the do-it-yourself spirit found at these establishments, Nakanishi and Butcher found the guts to venture out on their own, opening Sonnenzimmer in the Summer of 2006.  Merging backgrounds rooted in typography, printmaking, graphic design, and fine art, Sonnenzimmer specializes in screen printed projects designed and printed in-house. Utilizing idiosyncratic imagery and utilitarian strategies, Nakanishi and Butcher work on crafting a uniquely contemporary aesthetic. 


Butcher and Nakanishi strive to continually push the boundaries of art, design and printmaking while maintaining a connection to the work that inspired them. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they have no issue with balancing commercial art and a more “personal” fine art practice. On the contrary, they see many benefits in the defined parameters found in commerical art. Nakanishi and Butcher both see client based work as an ongoing collaboration. An effort that offers a surface of friction to better understand themselves and their work.


Nick Butcher :

My work is a culmination of quick starts and stops, hasty decisions, and a lengthy brewing time. Through this process, I hope to capture and document the moments of unhinged chaos and beauty that surround me at any given moment.  


Nadine Nakanishi:

Abstract painting and print making have been my main focus for the last 5 years. My interest lies in developing a contemporary dialogue between form and color. For me that means carrying on the tradition of the post-modern, while re-thinking my own approach and aesthetics to it. My biggest concern is bridging the ambiguity and clarity that abstract imagery evokes. One of the major elements in my work is reduction. It’s is a difficult balance between nonexistent and minimal, thoughtful and mindless. It takes a certain daily routine for me to keep in touch with it. Reduction is a corner stone when it comes to my visual language. It allows me to de- and reconstruct, creating space where form, texture, line-quality, composition, color-palette and perspective are no greater part without any of the others. The space within the painting (in the sense of the composition on the canvas), the space within the viewer’s inner (in the sense what’s moving the viewer), and the space between the painting and the viewer (in the sense of encounter of the work and viewer), is no greater part then the sum of all the other parts together. In this tri-dynamic, everything is open. Ultimately it is this aesthetic space which offers me possibilities; to step back, to step into—ways that have been forgotten or define ways for the future.


























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Juliette Goodwin: photography

*IMG_7087RIP CameraMorte

Camera Morte is a legend. For the world it became a mythic symbol of the eternal, evolving digital.

But I have no words to describe the myth and the legend. I did not know this strange and wonderful Camera Morte until five months before it stopped working altogether. Most of us gathered here today, knew only the old digital camera – a functioning, trustworthy, predictable image capturing device. Those early images were pleasing, true, in their own right, as accurate depictions of scenes and loved ones over the past eight years.

Our memories of Camera Morte remain alive, not only in shadow on the screen or as a consistent early-2000’s piece of the electronic. No. The ghost-like photos it produced actually live on two external hard drives and are backed-up on a few DVD’s. A selection of the images are showcased in a print publication, ‘Camera Morte / Neighborhood Apocalypse’. What some may have thought of as a decline in functionality, I saw as a beautiful, almost paranormal expression of the natural aging process of the medium. A ripening. A curing.

For us Camera Morte was a devoted and loyal camera, a colleague constantly reaching for focus. It was a member of our family. It is difficult to accept the fact that it’s zest for light and dark has been ended by a dreadful lack of information on its LCD screen and memory card.

It had a luminous quality, especially toward the end – a combination of magenta, cool greens and sometimes salmon colors – to set it apart and yet make everyone wish to be a part of it, to share in the childish overexposure of highlights and sunshine, which was so weird and yet so vibrant.

Now it is at some kind of an end. I will continue to try to resuscitate Camera Morte, dropping it yet again might work… and I hope its alleged death will stir sympathy and understanding for a sensitive, semi-functioning digital camera — a machine who brought curiosity and pleasure, even a little disturbance, at least to my little corner of the world a little over one year ago.

I cannot say goodbye, but instead, au revoir. For the shelf to which it has gone, we must all someday be shelved…or not. 












order Camera Morte book

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Simone Shubuck: visual artist


In the last several years I have been working with paper, pencils of different sorts, paint and collage exclusively (prior to that, I had been experimenting with all kinds of mixed media: food, grafitti, installation, etc). 

In my current work, I use a semi-conscious process in which I have some bookends, or specific references to concrete things, that I combine with a totally unconscious level of just letting the work happen without exact intentions. I consider the “heart” of my work an ongoing series of small drawings in boxes. The boxes unintentionally made their way into the work by sort of chance. One of the recurring things I find in my practice is that I am always kind of unaware at first that some of the most interesting things I’m doing are the things I don’t consider art. Initially these boxes were just something I carted the work around in, with pencils and erasures…a sort of portable studio. Inside there are a pieces that I tend to treat like a mix tape: the edit, the order, the intimacy of thumbing through them is part of the piece.



 The Actual Size of Everything 56″x47″



About To Put… 76″x 56″



Fountain Coffee 17″x 22″



Shell Monster 38″x 27″


ss_installation view_suzie-q_table2














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In Tune: Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery



by Damon Locks, John Corbett & Jim Dempsey


Open in the Wicker Park neighborhood for five years, Corbett vs. Dempsey is the brainchild of owners Jim Dempsey and John Corbett, both active in various curatorial endeavors in Chicago and elsewhere. The gallery, which is an outgrowth of their joint interest in the secret history of Chicago’s visual arts, has as its mission the exhibition of paintings, drawings, collages, assemblages, and sculpture by Midwestern artists of various styles from the 1930s to the 1970s. They represent various estates and living artists, as well as a select group of contemporary artists with roots in Chicago art. Given a longstanding involvement in music, the gallery presents sporadic solo performances and has presented artwork by musicians including Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink. Their efforts at piecing together the history of art in the Windy City have thus far resulted in more than 30 published catalogs and an extensive show in 2007/8 at the Chicago History Museum titled, Big Picture: A New View of Painting in Chicago. Although the focus at Corbett vs. Dempsey is Chicago vicinity, they are not averse to programming exhibitions of artists from elsewhere, when it speaks to them, as evidenced by an upcoming show of new works on paper by the German artist Albert Oehlen. Dempsey’s other activities have included programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where he is House Manager. Among Corbett’s musical productions are the Unheard Music Series, an ongoing program of archival releases of unavailable creative music primarily from the’60s and ’70s, as well as a long list of live musical events including a decade-long stretch booking the Empty Bottle Jazz Series and Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. In 2002, he was Artistic Director of JazzFest Berlin, and he contributes to Down Beat magazine each month.

We both stood round the computer and dreamed up the answers (to this interview) together. It would be impossible to extricate who said what. It’s a philosophical composite, it sort of represents the way we work at the gallery. We love it, we hope you can work with it. – J & J


You each had well developed and articulated roles for yourselves before you opened a gallery. Meaning, both of you had been working jobs for a long time seemingly suited to your interests in the fields of music & film, respectively. How did you guys initially decide to start an art gallery? Did the decision feel like a departure or simply an extension of what you were doing before? Did you feel like you were taking a chance creating a new space for yourselves personally as gallery owners?

We were both deeply involved in different kinds of curatorial activities before we set off on running a gallery.  In programming music films at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Jim was always interfacing with the local community, dealing with various collaborations; he liked to reach out to work with other institutions, like the Empty Bottle’s Adventures in Modern Music Festival, the Hideout’s live music programming, the World Music Festival with Michael Orlove. For Jim, it was important to pull together disparate parts of the curatorial community in Chicago, finding interesting continuity between music, film, and the visual arts. Likewise, John’s work as a music organizer brought together the local and international scenes in a context of mutual respect and collaboration, often featuring different media, like Peter Brötzmann’s exhibition The Inexplicable Fly-Swatter, which presented the German saxophonist’s artwork to an American audience for the first time. In our very first collaboration together, which took place at the Siskel in 2003, we not only presented films focused on Sun Ra in a month-long series called SUN RA SUNDAYS, but we featured live music and an exhibition of never-seen visual material. Since 1999, John has produced the Unheard Music Series, which issues obscure or out-of-print music from the archives.

In a certain respect, the work we set out to do with Corbett vs. Dempsey is a logical continuation of all these activities, not a radical break from them. For us, starting the gallery was a big risk because from the moment of conception to the first exhibition was a very short time, so we really hit the ground running. And there is a lot about having a gallery that isn’t simply common-sense…there are protocols and normal practices that you have to discover, so we had quite a steep learning-curve. It was a challenge that we devoured. An excellent example of how it continued activities in which we’d already been engaged is 2005’s EYE & EAR exhibition, featuring work by musicians who are artists and vice-versa. We produced a CD for that show and tied it into some programming at the Film Center. The other thing is that, each working independently, we had already built up audiences who were interested in what we were doing, so when we started the gallery some of those like-minded people came with us. That kept it from being like starting from absolute scratch…which was a plus.

When you step back and look at eras of certain genres of music made in Chicago (like jazz, r&b, soul, blues or gospel), it is possible to note attributes that, even with its diversity, make a case for a regional sound. Are there characteristics to the Chicago visual art scene that you can only appreciate over the span of time? Does Chicago art have a “regional sound?” 

It’s a very tricky business trying to articulate what makes a specific regional art form distinct from another, but there are definitely some things that are unique to Chicago, both in music and in the visual arts. We have long noted the working-class base here, which seems pretty unforgiving towards pretentiousness, snark and irony. By the same token, both in sound and image, there’s a very strong interest in vernacular sources and in humor. Chicago is a town that makes terrible requirements of its artists; many, both musicians and visual artists, have to spend their lives with day-jobs to support themselves. But this also is reflected in the work, which never gets too big for its britches. And it (Chicago) creates an atmosphere of experimentation in which the fiscal stakes are never so high that an artist can’t feel free to break his or her own rules.

With the inclusion of musical performances at the gallery, the location above a great record store and Sun Ra related projects how does your joint interest in the music world(and/or film world)play into your curatorial process?  

We love both music and art.  The decision to bring some musical events into the gallery space was specifically designed to attempt to introduce some of the music fans we know to the broader visual art world. And vice-versa, to bring art fans into a space where they can become intrigued by some sort of new music. We’ve noticed the mutual exclusivity of these worlds, which is sometimes disappointing, and we always try to break down those barriers. Live music is also just a way of making a gallery seem a little less intimidating and fussy, which is something we always strive to do.

Is there an art to creating monetary and hierarchical parameters around possibly previously unseen art?

To be clear, not all the artists we work with are, by any means, unknown.  But any time a curator attempts to assert that an obscure or relatively unknown artist is worthwhile, there’s a whole value structure at stake. One one hand, there’s a science to how things are valued, both monetarily and in terms of their historical value, but there’s also a more mysterious side to it. We try to be sensitive to both of those. It’s great fun and it’s lots of work, just attempting to decode the worth of things. For us, it starts with the basic notion that received wisdom is often incomplete. You need to question whether something has intrinsic interest, regardless of whether you’ve been told that it does or not. Answer that for yourself and then look at the bigger picture.

Why do you think it is important to focus on Chicago artists?

Through Chicago, one can easily observe how power and influence have shaped the history of American culture, obscuring or promoting certain music and art. Look at jazz musicians like Fred Anderson and Von Freeman. They’re our great beacons, the ones who stayed in Chicago and continued to make their own kind of music on their own terms. We adore that quality of independence, and we see it writ large in the visual arts as well.


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