Guest post by Julia V. Hendrickson
Notes on a Conversation.
With—Nadine Nakanishi & Nick Butcher of Sonnenzimmer
In—the Sonnenzimmer studio, 3605 N. Damen (rear)
Commenced—on Monday, February 14th, 2011, 6:30–7:30pm
“From the fine art world, we’re not fine art enough, and from the design world, we’re too fine art, so we’re always in this in-between of not being enough art, and not being enough design. The beauty of that is that we can say ‘graphic art’ because we like images, and graphic art you have to produce. You produce it in a way that has economic and functional [reasons] behind it, otherwise it wouldn’t be graphic art. Graphic art is creating images under an economic framework that has to do with the process, the tools, the money you have, and what it’s for. We wanted to describe that somehow.”
— Nadine Nakanishi
This past fall I ran into Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher in the hallway outside of the Post Family headquarters on Hubbard Street. Peculiarly, they had with them a chair, an apple, a camera, and a long beam of wood. Mystified then, I was to realize months later that they had just finished the photo shoot for Field Integration, Nadine’s second artist book, which will be released this Friday, February 25th.
I met Nadine and Nick, also known collectively as Sonnenzimmer, a little over a year ago at my first Chicago Printers Guild meeting. From the outset I was struck by the power of Nadine’s passionate conviction, and by Nick’s welcoming, reasoned demeanor. Since then I have followed their tireless creative progress, and I have been astounded time and again by work that is always thoughtful and sincere.
Nadine and Nick are collaborators who exist wholly in a collaborative Chicago print community. The enthusiasm they have for art, typography, and design is contagious, and utilizing that enthusiasm they are able to connect with a wide range of creative talent in the city. Field Integration is a microcosm of such connections, with a preface by Fred Sasaki (associate editor of Poetry magazine) and editorial assistance from Jonathan Messinger (book editor for Time Out Chicago and publisher at Featherproof Books). Scott Thomas (of the Post Family and Designing Obama) hosted the photo shoot in his new office space, and the book itself was offset printed in Chicago at Mission Press, with a screen printed cover and inserts from Sonnenzimmer’s press on the North Side.
Field Integration (2010) is a companion book to Nakanishi’s first publication, Formal Additive Programs (2009). Both artist books were partially funded by the Community Arts Assistance Program (CAAP) grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. After constant rejections from the grant community in her native Switzerland for “not being Swiss enough,” Nadine now has a lot of enthusiasm about the role of the CAAP grant in the city. Her advice when applying is to pay attention to deadlines far in advance (the deadline for 2011 grants was January 31st), and to take advantage of the public grant review sessions that happen in the spring. She also encourages artists to seriously think about the best finance possibilities for creating new work that will extend beyond the project and provide momentum for a career as an artist.
Formal Additive Programs certainly brought Sonnenzimmer’s momentum to the table. The book is a beautifully simple and concise collection of eighteen instructions, simple pieces of advice to follow step-by-step throughout the design process. Field Integration transforms the functional design advice into something more philosophical: a treatise on process and experiment in relation to images, design, and Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging.
The book unfolds in more complexity upon every re-reading. Field Integration is very much an artist book, for the texts and the images could not communicate as powerfully alone. The main essay offers Sonnenzimmer’s thoughts on philosophy and history, exploring the tenets of Ikebana, and focusing on balance in nature as a new way to consider design. There is a beautiful, haunting undercurrent from Fred Sasaki’s appropriated lines on Ikebana and the WWII Heart Mountain Japanese internment camps. It is a part of American history that Nadine notes, “has not really been digested yet.”
Paired with the text are black and white photographic still life arrangements, playful interpretations of the fundamental forms of Ikebana: the point, the line, and the plane. An electrical wire in the background grounds the arrangements, and serves as the balancing horizon line. Informed by the photographs, judiciously restrained splashes of color appear in small painted sketches and in the screenprinted inserts.
I see Sonnenzimmer’s books as manifestos on their unique design and production process, and that alone presents an interesting archival project for the Chicago art community. With Field Integration, Nadine and Nick present a tactile, functional object that includes the how, the why, and the what of their business. It is a practical form of self-promotion, and a holistic way of communicating who they are as creative people. Would that we each could find such a voice.
Sonnenzimmer is holding a book release party for “Field Integration” on Friday, February 25th from 7:30-9:30pm at the Elastic Arts Foundation (2830 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd floor). The release includes readings from contributors Fred Sasaki and Jonathan Messinger; photographic interpretations by Martha Williams and Jeremy Bolen; and music by Geoff Farina. The event is free.
You can watch a short documentary on the making of Field Integration here:
Julia V. Hendrickson is a native of eastern Ohio who lives and works as a visual artist, writer, and curator in Chicago, Illinois. In 2008 she graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art and a minor in English from The College of Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Julia is currently the gallery manager at Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as the office manager and design assistant for Ork Posters. She is a teaching assistant at the Marwen Foundation, an active member of the Chicago Printers Guild, and has taught at Spudnik Press. A freelance art critic and writer for Newcity, Julia also keeps a blog called The Enthusiast, a documentation of the daily things that inspire, intrigue, and inform. She is currently exhibiting at Anchor Graphics (Columbia College Chicago) in a solo show titled FANTASTIC STANZAS, on view through March 26th.