Guest Post by Dan Gunn
Chris Bradley is an MFA grad from SAIC in sculpture. He’s recently exhibited at Swimming Pool Projects, Raid Projects in LA, Dorsch Gallery in Miami to name a few. I sat down with him to talk following the opening of his new show at Shane Campbell Gallery titled Quiet Company. The show is up until April 2nd.
DG: Your references seem to be clearly of a certain kind from the basketball, to the potato chip and now the pretzel rod. Of what ‘kind’ are they? How do you choose what referents get into your work?
CB: I think it might just be happenstance, something just clicks, a revelation for lack of a better word. Recognizing that “Oh yeah, there’s an idea here.” Then it’s just a process of trying to figure out what I’m interested in. I end up pulling in these things that have been important for a while or that I’ve noticed in a different way. Then I play with them in the studio and after I’ve worked with them for a long time they become part of my vocabulary.
DG: For instance your show at Shane Campbell Gallery, Quiet Company, seems to be more associated with leisure. And I think that has to do with the palm trees. For me palm trees = leisure.
CB: For the show I’ve made targets set up in a precarious manner ready to be shot at. Or else they’ve been shot at and someone is a terrible shot. You can read that either way.
CB: The leisure aspect is definitely a component, but I’m not trying to celebrate a tropical place or a vacation, I think it’s more about the lack of the possibility to vacate. It’s fabricating an exit that someone doesn’t have an actual possibility of achieving.
DG: How do you indicate that lack of possibility?
CB: With this particular body of work its the ordinariness of the subject matter. You know I’m working with junk food, beer and paint rollers. I feel like these are materials that are really available for a lot of people. For some, alcohol is a means of exit. I feel like the artifice of using the beer can as the home of the potted palm dumbs it down to a level of patheticness.
DG: Would it be wrong to look at your work as working with completely masculine stereotypes? I have a hard time looking at Quiet Company, especially, and not imagining a watching a Packers game with a beer and some potato chips.
CB: I think a lot of people look at it that way. I think it’s totally fine. It’s bro-culture totally. I live with a gay male artist who’s doing projects on effeminacy within gay culture and then there’s me who’s doing commentary on masculinity within Middle America. But I don’t necessarily read it that way, though I’m OK with it. Being around a lot of different people I realize that I feel like I am just a dude. I’m happy to be a dude and to own that. I’ve been interested in working with motors, steel and things that move that have been commonly associated with the masculine. So I’m OK with the association but I wouldn’t say that it’s what I’m after. I think it might be inherent in how I think and what I’m in contact with. Often what stereotypically comes with masculinity is seen as insensitive and cold and I don’t feel that way about my work whatsoever. So I think that works to negate some of the narrower ideas of masculinity.
DG: How do you think about materials? What kind of criteria do you have for how they go together as sculpture?
CB: I’ve had some of the potatoes and avocados for a long time actually. I cast them and I didn’t really know what to do with them. I found some other resolution to the project that I was working on at the time. So I started playing with them again when I was in between projects and just made this target. Made a really strange pedestal and put them on top of it. I went “Oh that’s doing something, let me see where this goes.”
That was the impetus for the target series.
I started thinking about the potato chip as a subject. You know I’m very much a builder, I used to be more into image and 2D stuff, and I still am but I don’t really trust myself to do anything intelligent there. So I looked at the potato chip as a building block, but couldn’t come up with something interesting. While I was at the liquor store I saw some pretzel rods and I thought that there might be something there. So I bought some real pretzel rods and built a target with them and I was into it, seeing if I could build other ways with them and ended up making the giraffe with it.
There is something really approachable to the temporary, to the clips, to something bound vs. something welded or fabricated in a more permanent way. Because someone could go and just take it apart. I think understanding the way that something is built provides a direct way of accessing it. If someone knows how to use a ratchet strap they could take that thing apart.
If it’s anything worthwhile people connect to it more because it’s part of their world. A lot of people don’t weld so that’s not as accessible. I think that’s more about believability and play on the precariousness of the palm tree and making a really stupid act that anyone could do. It has a certain way of communication.
Also with the targets the clips make sense because you can shoot it and then clip another one to it. There is a certain trickery that I want to maintain. Even in the trompe o’ leil in something like the potato chip.
DG: The pretzel is kind of like an edible Lincoln log… Earlier you mentioned motors and motion, how does motion play into your work? I’m thinking specifically of the Cinnamon Spice Machine and its involuntary motion.
CB: I find it challenging to use kinetics in a sculpture in an effective way. For the sake of movement it’s easy to do, but to make an artwork that couldn’t be done without that movement is more rewarding. There is a balance in my practice where I’ll be really into kinetics for a bit. It’s a different thought process, but I get exhausted by it and move on to something else. I’ve been doing anything but kinetics recently and I’m starting to get interested in it again.
DG: If this kinetics focused side is one part of your practice, how would you characterize the side that produced Quiet Company?
CB: It was my approach to figure out where I stand within a bigger discipline. I take that body of work as something painterly. I think it’s about being in the studio and spending half an hour mixing paint, trying to get the color right. I’ve been relating with painters more, to try and understand what they do and what I do. I’m getting over the separation between the disciplines and trying to figure out where I stand with that. I was really excited to find a resolution for the wall because that was the last thing that resolved for the show.
DG: Can you describe those pieces?
CB: They are the pretzel rod prisms. I take them as outlines of paintings, and consider them sketches because they are so loosely put together. There is also “Horizon” which is kind of a squiggly line of pretzels.
DG: I read “Horizon” as a backdrop to your tropical paradise that goes to your notion of a limited escape through objects. A dreaming through objects. If you can imagine a line of pretzels on a wall as a horizon then you have a pretty active imagination or longing for something else.
CB: That’s putting a lot on pretzels! I think that’s often what painting is about. It’s about illusion and trickery. If you can stand in a room and point past a line of pretzel rods I think that’s pretty effective. But I don’t know if anyone’s doing that…
DG: How does humor function in your work?
CB: I’ll take it as funny, if someone wants to take it that way. I hesitate to call my work humorous because of a weird insecurity about calling yourself something that most people want to be. To be funny is a nice thing, to self proclaim something like that is odd to me. It’s also like being an artist, I mean anyone can technically be an artist I guess, but there’s a different level to it when someone else comes to take you in and say “This person is really doing something valuable”. You have to wait for those things.
DG: I wouldn’t say your work is purely funny because there is also a kind of fatalism in certain pieces. I’m thinking specifically about a work like Potato, where an actual potato travels on an oval track around a wall. I get a kind of perverse pleasure thinking about it in relation to De Scott Evans trompe o’ leil painting “The Irish Question” in the Art Institute, though I doubt you were thinking about the Potato famine… Still there is something about the bland taste of a potato traveling a circuit repeatedly that is both funny and fatalistic.
CB: I think the potato is a very loaded icon. I first approached it with those notions in mind with a very loose hand. I wasn’t very conscious about what I was getting into. The first instance was a flying potato in Ireland.
DG: So it was Irish!
CB: It was a very performative gesture throwing a potato in the air, taking a photograph of it and hoping for the best. I think the fatalism that you speak of comes because the potato doesn’t progress. It doesn’t learn anything. Maybe we have it fantastic, because we don’t just walk in circles? Or maybe we do. The potato is kind of monotonous, Sisyphean, pathetic and strangely frightening. That’s how I see it.
DG: So if that’s the iconology of the potato, what about the avocado?
CB: It’s just another piece of produce…
DG: See, because I read it as the analog to the potato chip, as the thing which will eventually go on the potato chip.
CB: Sure! You can definitely read it that way. Avocado, guacamole.
DG: It was a culinary read…
CB: Other people brought that up as well. I see it as some kind of parallel to something tropical. The more I worked with it I thought that it was kind of a romantic fruit with a big seed inside, and kind of lush. But in the end it’s just produce.
DG: But what about your beer choice?
CB: I’m a Budweiser drinker. Nowadays I’m more of a light beer drinker and I would say that Modelo especial is kind of light. To work with beer cans you need to be conscious of who else works with beer cans, it’s available and it’s being used. So I went with a 24oz can to be specific with my choice and I ended up drinking a lot of cans. I started playing with these cans and I began to think about what it meant to be a Budweiser drinker.
The Modelo cans seemed to go really well with the idea of putting palm trees in them. It was a really conscious choice, a comparison between two different places. There is this longing for the other, for the unknown.
DG: A world inside of a beer can.
Dan Gunn is an artist, writer and educator living in Chicago.
by Marquis Steele
If you lived in my place, you would know that no area is truly safe,
They made it seem as though all the crime was in the projects,
Now that the projects are gone, I still haven’t noticed the change yet.
They thought getting rid of Cabrini was a safe bet,
Promising false dreams and writing minuscule checks,
But that small amount of money won’t cover the bills and their debts,
Our problem is that we were put in a system designed to keep us down,
When that happened, things could have only went south,
We should have been applying ourselves and not making it worse by running our mouths.
I understand that it was a struggle and everybody needs a hustle,
But people were afraid of the projects because they felt if they walked by, they would get mugged,
But it wasn’t that way; the buildings just looked scary because of the bad wiring,
Passersby felt afraid and it was getting tiring,
See you can make anything worse seem worse than it is if you don’t know firsthand,
The media does a good job of proving that to be a fact,
All they did was overlook the good and search for the bad.
Our destruction was the infrequent crime,
The crimes that happened every once in a while,
The crimes that looked worse on them because of the complexion of their skin and where they were,
I guarantee it wouldn’t have been a big deal if downtown wasn’t so close to there.
But now the building and tenants are gone,
No more BBQ’s and children singing double-dutch songs,
I truly don’t care much because I left years ago,
But still, kicking people out for property value is low.
by Jasmine Dilworth
Lay me down to sleep my Lord, if I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”
“Babu-Gum, Babu-Gum in a dish, how many pieces do…you…wish”
Looking at the building as it takes its last breath
Boom! It landed in the middle of my room
My room was the place where all my girl cousins chose to hang out
But my color faded away
“Babu-Gum, Babu-Gum in a dish, how many pieces do…you…wish”
I wish I had just one more time to play before they all moved away
To where I don’t know
But they were my best friends; I hope to see them again
Sometimes I can still hear them laughing and running up and down
the fifth floor ramp, with purple popsicles dripping down their chin
Too bad we will never ever play again
“Babu-Gum, Babu-Gum in a dish, how many pieces DO…YOU…WISH”
by Justus White
Why must we all have to live in a lie?
Just to hear another voice of our people die.
This, itself, enrages me in anger.
But who really wants to hear the voice of a young black stranger?
So all I can say is why?
Why can’t we live in a world where you can be you?
How come people don’t like you because of what you do?
Soon as you hit those streets you better watch your back
For those in which your abilities inside they lack.
So all I can say is why?
Why do we live in a world where everything my race does is bad.
This can be like being back stabbed by your close friends which is kind of sad.
I just really want to spread a deep message to this earth.
To say not all black kids are born the same at birth
So all I can say is why?
Me? Why should I always be the one to turn the other cheek?
When a boy can’t be safe even walking down his street.
Sometimes my heart is filled with perpetual darkness and pain
But it will never be enough for me to learn from this or gain
The knowledge to know that this pain will not last
This makes my heart beats one thousand times fast.
Maybe one day now I have no need to ask why
Because the life I live, I know is not a lie
Hope is of the essence, it will never be wrong
All you need to do is keep faith and stay strong.
So my last question I ask why
Why can’t we sprout our wings and just fly?
How Did They Break It To You?
by Michelle Stearn
Dear Former Cabrini Resident,
How did they break it to you?
Did they send you a letter?
A form letter, addressed to a number
Anonymous, like the number on your door.
A white envelope
Innocent when sealed, but when opened –
a shock of a thousand volts.
A letter made from an arrangement of letters,
assembled on a page
Deciding the fate of your existence.
How did they break it to you?
How did they break it to you?
Did they come to your door?
Knocking three times, serious knocks, hollow, devoid of
Did they look into your eyes when they said it?
To see your reaction — or lack thereof?
Did they react to your reaction?
Or just blurt out the news and then bolt
Like a hit and run, a drive by, a robotic telegram,
an empty urn, serving you the news.
How did they break it to you?
How did they break it to you?
Did you hear it from a neighbor?
From a fellow survivor, sufferer, witness of all things unseen?
Or from a mouse, a rat, a roach –
preparing for evacuation
going off some inexplicable animal instinct sensing unrest.
Or through the grapevine of gossip, from which you would soon be
Cut off from the source
Cut off from the roots
Cut off from the very foundation.
But these are mere speculations
Inevitably ignorant assumptions, not unlike the ones that decided your
So, you tell me,
How did they break it to you?
Why Do You Build
by Robert Harrison
If you build to tear down, then why do you build.
If you build to break it up, then why do you build.
If you build to hurt lives, why do you build.
If you build and they have to evacuate, then why do you build.
If you build and they have to relocate, then why do you build.
If you build and waste materials, why do you build.
If you build to tear apart, then why do you build.
If you build to break up relationships, then why do you build.
If you build to separate families, why do you build.
If you build to destroy, then why do you build.
If you build to leave people without homes, then why do you build.
Why do you build, if you build to make memories,
If you build to break memories, then why do you build.
JT: No, we approached the Chicago Housing Authority. They own the land and the building. It’s a large project, and expanding all of the time. When I say we, first and foremost I’m working with my partner, Efrat Appel. She is a social worker and editor. We developed the idea and at a certain point went to look for connections in the neighborhood. We met Cabrini Connections, Marwen and After School Matters. Then there are numbers of SAIC students who work in student work groups to collaborate on the projects. It’s important to me that the exchange is not “come help me on this project and I will give you credit,” but is on the level of something more educational and important. And really none of this would’ve been possible without the support of Richard Gray Gallery who helped me approach the CHA and who made the project financially possible.
DG: Then I guess the proper question would be what made you want to work with Cabrini Green as a site?
JT: My work at times has a political or social aspect. There was a time when I was living in Israel with the political situation, with its racism, with Jews against Arabs or even Jews against Jews with a different color of skin. And in coming to Chicago, it’s here as well.
I also think that the notion of working with housing projects came about through working with Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. It was a very different collaboration with my students from SAIC. We lit it up from inside. By working on the campus of IIT and exploring with the students not only the architecture but what was happening around we began to feel that the absence of the Robert Taylor Homes was very strong. It had only been a few years since they had been torn down. Because we were working on lighting the building we changed the class time to from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
JT: Well … you know … the students liked it in the end. Taking students from IIT to the Red Line at 5 a.m. safely just wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. I haven’t lived here before so it wasn’t like I noticed. But at IIT we were interviewing students, faculty and neighbors so it was clear that it had had a huge impact on the local community.
Another impetus was a commission for a private collection in the former Montgomery Ward building that I worked on. While learning about the building I found out that it was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also built the World Trade Center, and who in 1954 designed the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. They were torn down after just 16 years. Architecture critic and writer Charles Jencks later pointed to that moment as the end of Modern architecture. The first time that we were tearing down this Modern dream.
The Montgomery Ward building itself had to go through this makeover to become what it is today, from offices to condos. So the notion of demolition and destruction together with 9/11 and was all sitting right across the street practically from the row houses. So that brought me closer to Cabrini.
But I guess the possibility of relating to a historical moment was very clear. Cabrini is the last [high rise housing project] to go down and this is the last building to go down.
DG: How do you see your intervention acting to elucidate or animate that historical moment?
JT: It was very clear to me from the beginning that projection (which is the tool that I’m usually working with) projecting on, imposing an image, wouldn’t work here. To project on a building is to come from the outside. And realizing the potential of the emptiness that needs to be filled; it needs to be filled from the inside.
Therefore we went to the neighborhood, to the kids. People who should have the opportunity to raise his or her voice about this issue, to get a different attention. Cabrini Green got a specific kind of attention. Everyone was writing about Cabrini but only when somebody was killed. Nobody was paying attention when the other things were happening. So this is a way to give to the next generation, to the kids who came from there, a way to express, to be heard, to be seen and to be empowered.
So we started to work with partners in the community like Cabrini Connections, a tutor-mentor program and with Marwen Foundation that is also in the neighborhood, but serving kids from around the city. Several of the kids from Cabrini Connections actually lived in the apartments in the last building. Other kids, from Marwen were also mostly from low income housing, but not only. For the kids who don’t know Cabrini, the approach was obviously different, it was more learning about the history.
DG: What is the nature of the kids’ contribution?
JT: I was thinking about how to help give voice to someone in a public space and also in my other work about the relationship between light and sound. If we can translate the message, or whatever the kids want to say, to light.
The workshops that we hold with the kids includes some information about public art, what it can do and about light and sound art as a means of gathering attention. Then we begin to talk about general issues about home and housing. At a certain point we introduce slam poetry, a form that is from Chicago and at a certain point the kids themselves start to write. When they are done with their poems they perform them. Their performances will then be translated into a modulated light display.
DG: So each individual kid’s voice will light a room in the last building?
JT: We record the audio of the performance and program it into the control chips for the LED’s. We thought when we began that we might only be able to get 30-40 kids, but we’ve had such a great response that we’ve recorded nearly 100 kids. We’re trying to get to 134, because their are 134 apartments in the building. I felt that during the workshops that there was something really important happening with the kids that were not only from public housing. We felt that we could extend this dialogue to include area kids that weren’t as directly effected.
There is another layer to this educational aspect, in that I look to the example of Moholy-Nagy. He’s close to me not just in working with light, but a lot in education. This is also something that came to me when I was working on Crown Hall. Both Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe came to Chicago at more or less the same time, from the same place for basically the same purpose, but they were completely different, not only as artists, but as educators and thinkers. Mies was like ‘That is how you do things, cause that’s how I do it.’ Whereas Moholy-Nagy was much more collaborative, with faculty working with students on a project, trying to bring the students into the community from the very beginning. These aspects of his example are important. And that was also part of the idea at Crown Hall, was to do this very Moholy-Nagy workshop inside of a Mies structure. And there the idea that I brought was very simple. Just to light up the inside of the building, the rest was figured out in collaboration. I see myself as an artist / teacher, teacher / artist.
Here the idea is simple, just to light up the inside of the building with voices, but still as the project grows their is more and more opportunities for students and creative experience. Sound students made the sound equipment, and make the recordings. Faculty and students from the Art and Technology Department are constructing the LED kits.
The demolition starts the day after the installation of the lights and will last between 4 to 6 weeks, so every day there will be less and less lights, as they are demolished with the building. The electronics will be salvaged from the wreckage during the recycling process of the debris. The thing is we don’t really know what it will look like! A mock-up won’t help me.
DG: Is that at all scary?
JT: It is! While I am working only with white light, I do expect that the effect will have color, reflecting off of the painted walls in the apartments, being more clearly visible because the windows have been removed prior to demolition.
JT: Someone was trying to make it nice, to make it a home.
DG: In the building is the audio also available?
JT: No, it’s just the blinking because you wouldn’t be able to hear it from the street anyway. The audio will be available online as a web component with an interactive digital model of the building. You’ll be able to click each apartment and hear all 134 poems performed. The poems will also be published.
There is also a gallery component at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Cabrini has always been close to the Gold Coast, close yet so far away. I mean it’s a 9 minute walk from Cabrini to the MCA. But the gap between these two is huge. I thought it would be interesting to bring it live to the MCA. Another group of students from SAIC are working on making a live feed of the installation available 24/ 7 for the 4-6 weeks in the MCA.
DG: This is a colossal project!
JT: I was just thinking about that. Its obviously growing over my head and I’m really glad that it’s happening in two weeks so it can’t grow any more!
Guest post by Thea Liberty Nichols
Email interview conducted with Steve Ruiz
Steve Ruiz is an artist and writer from Chicago. He is the Managing Editor of Chicago Art Review (.com) and has contributed to a number of publications including Jettison Quarterly, NewCity Magazine, and Proximity Magazine. Information on his artwork can be seen at steveruizart.com.
TLN: Can you start by telling us a little bit about Chicago Art Review? I’m especially interested (as a former participant) in the audio component you have on there, which, as far as I’m aware, is unique to your site as a listings format.
SR: I started Chicago Art Review in April 2009, right around the time I was graduating from college. The blog started as a joke (I’d told my former professor, Geoffrey Todd Smith, that I would write a gonzo review of his show) but I quickly realized the project’s potential as a way of engaging with the Chicago art community, which I was pretty unfamiliar with after spending five years studying elsewhere. Chicago Art Review became a reason to get out to shows, meet artists, and know about their work. My idea was to learn in a public way and I think people appreciated the effort, especially as I didn’t really know anything or anyone and was writing from the hip on first impressions.
TLN: On that note, since several of the folks you just mentioned also have blogs or websites of their own, or contribute to other publications online or in print, can you tell us a little bit about how you expanded your network to include them? And do you feel like more an editor (vs. a writer) because of it?
SR: I My approach to involving other writers with Chicago Art Review is pretty casual. I don’t have any regular contributors, but I try to involve other people when I think they have an interest in writing something that I’d like to read but wouldn’t otherwise have a place to read it. The loose format on the site allows me to publish writing that wouldn’t fit elsewhere for whatever reason, and sometimes the appeal of “do whatever you want” is enough to get contributors on board. But no, I don’t think I work hard enough to feel like a Managing Editor.
TLN: It sounds like Chicago Art Review takes a very experimental approach to things and is happy to evolve by recognizing what works best for it– knowing what you know now, do you ever wish you could go back and take a different tact? Like do you feel the internet is written in stone or invisible ink? And where do you see Chicago Art Review going next– anything interesting in the hopper?
SR: No, I don’t think I’d change anything I’ve done, but I’d like to have done more of it. But its early, we’ve got time.
If anything, I’m happy to have established a sort of authoritative sounding brand based on formal experimentation and stubborn amateurism. Not to flatter the context here, but a lot of my ideas about art criticism were informed by seeing how the Bad at Sports podcast could deliver rich critical content in form based on the unlikely combination of a lack of claimed authority, persistant volunteerism, over-education, topical expertise, conversational tones, and alcohol. That relationship with criticism feels much more appropriate for this city’s community. I’m interested in finding a written form and style that reflects the culture here, and that serves our needs and demands for writing, which are very different than in other cities. Some things are valued less, some more, and I feel like that should be taken into consideration.
As for going forward, a few months ago I started – but do not claim any ownership of – a Facebook group called #chiart for art writers and artists to talk to each-other about art in Chicago. The name comes from a slightly problematic twitter hashtag I’d got going, but which was hard to use for bigger conversations. The Facebook group has worked much better, and I’ve been amazed at the quality of conversation there and at the ability for a certain number of engaged individuals to generate high-value critical dialog while essentially slacking off at work. Its easily my primary resource for almost all the tasks I’d previously have gone to didactic journalism for, making it harder to justify writing that kind of thing. I’m fascinated by the idea of body surfing legitimate critical discourse on crowds of distracted experts, and am looking for ways to turn that kind of conversation-based model into something that can produce discrete pieces of writing for us to print for binders and to cite on our CVs. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer. To listen to an excerpt from the “Form and Content of Writing” panel she moderated as part of Stockyard Institute‘s exhibition at DePaul University entitled Nomadic Studio, please click here. (Featuring commentary from Patrice Connolly, Claudine Ise, Abraham Ritchie and Bert Stabler)
Guest post by Thea Liberty Nichols
Email interview conducted with Angee Lennard
Angee Lennard is the founder of Spudnik Press Cooperative, and currently serves as the Executive Director. She has participated in group shows at Green Lantern, Heaven Gallery, Butcher Shop, Beverly Art Center, and Chicago Urban Art Space. She has been an Artist in Residence at AS220 in Providence, RI. She currently teaches at Marwen, Spudnik Press, and through Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), and has previously taught at Rumble Arts and Paper Source. She has been a panelist at Zygote Press’ Collective INK and moderated the panel “Printmaker as Distributor, Collaborator, and Facilitator” at DePaul University Museum through Nomadic Studio. She is a member of the Chicago Printers Guild and Southern Graphics Council. She received her BFA with an emphasis is Print Media from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005.
TLN: I’ve read before, in your own words, about your inspiration for opening Spudnik Press, and since printmaking by nature is a very communicative medium, I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about how you communicate with the public? And online? And in print? Is their a particular tone or house style that you’ve developed over time?
AL: I think the communicativeness of printmaking affects the visuals that go along with what I write more than the words. Or rather, I have more confidence and experience in tweaking aesthetics and design than I do language. I spend a great deal of time with every mass e-mail I write because I am acutely aware that through the words I use, I am presenting Spudnik Press as a certain type of community. But my lack of editing experience leaves me guessing at the impact of my words. We do have standard fonts we use for all of our literature. It took me awhile to settle on “Fuse Green” for our 2011 Brochures.
There are a few tiers of people I communicate with. The broadest being “the public”. I try to put together as professional of a package as possible for this crowd. People won’t take you seriously until you take yourself seriously, and we need to earn peoples trust that we are a stable organization that is well-run with clear goals. Next, we have a google group for members. This is a group that I am in more communication with about donations we need, classes that have openings, volunteer opportunities, etc, and I’m a little more conversational with. Lastly, we have the inner circle of keyholders, monitors, and teachers. This is the group that gets e-mails full of slang and at times gripes (“Squeegees don’t clean themselves!”) Maintaining a conversational tone is important to our mission of remaining approachable. With printing being derived from industry, we use a great deal of terminology and can often slip into exclusive conversations about extraneous topics like ink viscosity. We forget how unwelcoming this is to non-printers. I use the all-inclusive “we” so often that my family has been confused about if I had a business partner or not.
I also try to clearly communicate exactly what Spudnik’s needs are, which requires a little bit of subtle education slipped into e-mails, press releases, facebook posts, etc. It also requires a great amount of transparency. A few years ago, I couldn’t with words clarify how drastically we needed people to conserve ink, pay rent on time, etc, so I started prominently displaying our bank statements. About a month later our situation started to improve. We also had a member offer to be our first Treasurer. People can only pull their own weight when they are made aware of what their share of responsibility is.
TLN: Asking for help is really hard sometimes—on that note, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about the Space Race!
AL: Space Race is a moniker we are using for the fundraising we are doing to allow us to move into a larger home. Everyone who has worked at Spudnik knows that we are crammed in our current location and the quicker we can procure the needed funds, the faster we can breath a little and add resources like letterpresses and an offset press the better. We are approaching it like a capital campaign – we’ll keep having fundraisers until our monetary goal is met. Our first fundraiser was an Art Documentation Day where donors were able to bring in a portfolio of work and have it documented. Next is The Hashbrown, a Chili Cook-Off between many of Chicago’s biggest printers. Another component is selling Subscriptions. For $250, up to 12 people can receive a package of prints every quarter throughout the year. The prints included in the subscription will be the best of the best that is made here, posters for our events, collaborative projects, work from Artists in Residence, artwork we publish, and the like. We are planning on using Kickstarter for the tail end of our fundraising, and have already had friends of Spudnik offer to teach relief printing, screenprinting, and harmonica to backers pledging at different tiers. I am also keeping an updated list of materials, equipment, and furniture that we are seeking donations of online.
TLN: Wow! So this is a really big push to make Spudnik bigger and better. Can you tell us how this speaks to Spudnik’s mission? And let us in on how you crafted that statement in the first place please.
AL: Moving to this new studio speaks to our mission in a few ways. Although it will take us some time to get our offset press up and running, access to this type of printing is practically non-existent, affordable or otherwise. Even though offset printing can produce higher volumes of prints faster and cheaper than other mediums, artists often cannot experiment with it. The more people using the studio, the more the overhead costs are divided among all users, allowing us to either lower rates or offer more free or discounted services to the community. I am also hoping that once we have a few more people using the studio, it will be easier to expand our regular hours. We currently are only officially open two nights a week, and Saturday afternoons.
I did not initially sit down to write a mission statement. Our goals slowly became evident to me as Spudnik developed. I knew I wanted to create a studio that encouraged open dialog and a supportive environment, but I didn’t know what that would look like or how it would function. I looked at other models, but until I started the shop it wasn’t clear to me what would end up striking a chord and becoming our mainstays. Our official mission statement, to me, is pretty dry and concise, developed for grant writing and our tax-exempt application. I feel our mission is actually much broader, complex, and intangible; something in the vain of enabling individuals, both those who identify as “artists” and those who don’t, to contribute to the visual culture of our city and use art as a means for communication and building community.
Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer.