Christy LeMaster is the powerhouse behind the Nightingale, a Chicago microcinema dedicated to screening experimental film. It’s a welcoming and unpretentious space thanks to her generosity and openness. The Nightingale engages in inclusive conversation surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of new work, but at the heart of everything it does, beats the fans, makers, viewers, colleagues and friends it’s cultivated. LeMaster’s ingenuity, sweat equity and contagious enthusiasm has kept the place humming for the past several years, and now— poised to celebrate a milestone anniversary— she was kind enough to recount the Nightingale’s gradual growth in scale and scope; discuss the film she’s currently making; and give us a teaser regarding the new website she’s developing, a project which will vault the community built in her brick and mortar space into the ether of the internet with the hopes of connecting and supporting even more filmmakers, cinemas and cinephiles.
TLN: April 5 marks the five-year anniversary of the Nightingale. Can you recap the activities and structure of your space over the last few years and let us in on what’s next?
CL: You say “5 years”, and it seems like it’s been so much longer; and at the same time, it feels like it’s happened at light speed. When I started the Nightingale it seemed like access was the issue; there was more work being made than was screened, and seeing one’s work in front of an audience should be the bedrock of artistic development. The city just seemed hungry for it. When I first began talking about starting a microcinema, people just rushed in to help. So I decided to do as many screenings as I could, and to not be overly precious about the idea of curation. There seemed to be a need for a community screening room as well as an experimental cinema; we got requests to be an auxiliary venue for other arts organizations; to screen social-issue documentaries; to host youth-media showcases; and to feature work from all the city’s art schools. And so the momentum became its own practical logic: What do we need right now? What do we have that we can use? Who is coming to town? What is the rest of her work like? Those sorts of questions often propelled me forward more often than “What should we be showing?” Luckily, generous and gifted people keep showing up to help. Patrick Friel has been presenting every month for years; Jon Cates and Nick Briz brought us UpgradeChicago for awhile; My dear friends Doug and Chloe McLaren have been managing tech concerns and special event details for years; Sally Lawton showed up a year ago asking to help out with screenings, and is now involved in every aspect of the place. It all happened pretty organically. I would ask for help as needed and people helped. The place runs entirely on a gift economy and volunteer labor. With exception of special events and multi-artist shorts programs, we always pay artists out of the door and spend the rest until it’s gone. For the most part we break even.
When I started, I gave the project a sunset date of five years so I could re-assess if I was happy doing the work and if the space was still needed. And here we are. I think it is still useful to do, but I am being pulled by other projects. So I am handing off. The main bulk of the work will be managed by five programmers/keyholders: Patrick Friel, Emily Kuehn, Jesse Malmed, Chloe McLaren, and Doug McLaren. They will all have autonomous use of the space. We have structured the new system around transparency. We have put all of the tools for running the space online, and gathered a group of volunteer staff to assist the programmers. And we are taking this moment to refresh the space in lots of other ways too. We will soon launch a kickstarter to get a new projector. We are overhauling the website and changing the look of the space. I am excited for the transition. It seems really natural. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I hope to still organize programs occasionally and think about the space in a more macro way.
TLN: The Nightingale has managed to transcend its programming by acting as an informal hub of community building. I know intentional communities, post-nuclear family structures and Utopias are all part of your research interests, can you tell us more about how they relate to the activities of your micro-cinema and your own arts practice?
CL: Early on, I decided on a few small details that have become our rituals— we make pretty tickets for every screening, we always have a raffle, we host a big potluck every year and film a trailer.
I’m really interested in issues around interdependence. I think in the wake of the implosion of the nuclear family, we’re all sort of floating into new models of how to take care of each other. I heard a woman say once, “co-dependence is no joke in a world without interdependence,” and that’s really led my interest. It was always more important that the Nightingale be accessible instead off curatorially perfect. And for a long time I didn’t think I had an art practice, I just thought I had projects. But over the last couple years I’ve started to see that all of my projects are concerned with the same issues— how do people establish interdependence outside of traditional means; heteronormative relationships, institutions of church or work? I think a lot of us arts organizers in Chicago are remaking a small corner of the world in a vision that we value. Utopia is social critique. We aren’t interested any more, it seems, in removing ourselves from society entirely, but a lot of people we know are working very hard to rebuild small parts of society from the ground up. The Nightingale is my vision of an interdependent cinema, and a lot of my other projects are concerned with the same dynamics. I’m working on a movie about utopias where I invite different arts organizations in Chicago to re-enact an intentional or utopian community from American history; I’m researching sacred harp choirs because of how they use performance as collaborative practice. I’ve been thinking about how to be a good collaborator for 10 years, and I’m only now applying it pragmatically.
TLN: Your network of colleagues and collaborators extends well beyond the city of Chicago, which makes you the perfect person to take on the build out of Splitbeam, an online resource you dreamt up and secured funding to implement. Tell us more about the project, its function and its design.
CL: It turns out that the experimental cinema community is pretty small; Splitbeam is an idea that I had over the last years at the Nightingale— I wanted a resource where I could see what other microcinemas were doing, and right now experimental moving image makers are working on a sort of punk-rock model where you book your own shows; we’re not really relying on media to travel independently of the artist very often. Splitbeam is a web directory of microcinemas, independent and alternative cinemas, and it houses a modular, open distribution that is meant to take some of the administrative burden off of curators and artists. I am lucky to be working on it with my good friends Nick Briz and Michael Castelle; Nick is doing the front-end design and Michael is handling the database, and I am taking on the research and organization. We received a generous grant from the Propeller Fund and used it to hire Sonnenzimmer to create a visual concept for the site. We’re going to work on it hard this summer and hope to launch in the Fall of 2013.
Interview conducted over email March 2013.
So you may have noticed that I’ve started posting a “week in review” column — as a way to tie different posts together and map what has taken place on Bad at Sports. Usually I post this column over the weekend — on Saturday or Sunday. However, this week/end I was out of town, so even though Mondays are about moving on and looking forward, I thought I’d pause to look back a moment. And, unlike my usual style, this week I’m going to go BACKWARDSzzzz.
The theme I found had to with books and book love and catalogues and the material of records.
Bailey Romaine (Happy Birthday, Bailey!) posted a really lovely interview between herself and SPARE, an artist residency and bookmaking project in Chicago’s SouthSide. It is run out of Kyle and Shannon Schlie’s apartment, where the two have reserved one room for artists to live and another for their Risograph printer — which, btw, I deeply deeply covet. As a lover of artist-run-project spaces, a bibliofile and a bookmaker, you can imagine why I would get so excited about this conversation. At one point Kyel Schlie says:
I came to books through art, so I often think of them in that context. Because I’m interested in how objects, and the ideas they carry, move and live in the world, books open up a lot of options that aren’t as likely for other art-type things. I feel like books have a potentially wider, or at least different, reach that interests me. Books circulate, books are distributed, and so on, which to me, feels like an exciting active process; one which I would like to take beyond just books.
Carrying on with the theme of books, Monica Westin interviewed Jessica Cochran, Columbia’s Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Center for Book and Paper Arts Gallery, about their current show “Structures for Reading: Text, (Infra)Structure, and the Reading Body in Contemporary Art,” — which opens up the conversation about artist books per se, connecting them to the body and the process of reading:
Now that the physical book’s very existence is in flux once again, the discourse around their fate and role in our lives is, one might suggest, incongruent to their reality as inanimate objects. If you read or listen to discourse around disappearing bookshops, or talk to a reader who is defiantly holding out against that “inevitable” Kindle purchase, you’ll find that these conversations are incredibly passionate—it’s like we think of these books as living things! This helps explain the currency of the book itself as a visual signifier of our contemporaneity, or what Terry Smith calls, “our passing present” particularly when it is sited within contemporary art projects.
Stephanie Burke did it again with everybody’s favorite Top 5 Weekend Picks.
Thea Liberty Nichols posted about The Stockyard Institute, using a text that will be published in an upcoming catalogue about their work, translating their very material, installation and situational interests into a book. In her closing paragraph, Nichols writes:
From the beginning, SI’s students have also been their teachers. Through a marriage of art and politics, they have acted transparently, embraced inclusivity, and stayed true to their belief that there’s plenty to go around. Above all, they appreciate a good spectacle, and this has been their trademark maneuver for reeling us in. The deal is sealed however, as soon as we realize that, through sheer force of will, they have the power to transform the ideal into the real.
I felt like there was a interesting, ambient connection between SI’s interest in material, and the presence of books this week (which I’ve started to think more generally as records, or placeholders of memory) in Julie Green’s work — a Northwest artist that Sarah Margolis-Pineo interviewed. Green has been working on an on-going series of blue and white paintings on porcelain dishes, painting the last meals inmates:
Corvallis-based painter Julie Green has opted to address the deeply flawed system of capital punishment head on. Her ongoing series, The Last Supper, has been a twelve-year pursuit to reveal the humanity on death row through intimate portraits of last meal requests painted on ceramic plates.
The plates, currently numbering 500, are a dissonant accumulation of lives lived and lost. Displayed in clusters along the perimeter of The Arts Center, (Corvallis, OR), each constellation speaks to an ad hoc arrangement of family portraits, a domestic sensibility that is amplified ten-fold by the use of readymade tableware as canvas. Despite the gravity of the subject matter, there is a touch of whimsy to Green’s project. Her meticulously rendered pizza slices, honeybuns, and hamburgers are most often completed without any visual referent. Filtered through the artist’s memory, the foods are imbued with an illustrative quality that borders on cartoony, speaking to the endearing texture of Maira Kalman rather than the inherent gloom of the memento mori. Further, each object in The Last Supper is painted in the tradition of blue-and-white china, a hue that is simultaneously absurd and significant, drawing from one of the most recognized traditions in ceramic worldwide, from Jingdezhen ware to Willowware.
The Last Supper, an exhibit with 500 of these aforementioned plates will be exhibited at The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, (Eugene, OR), in March, and travel to The Art Gym, (Portland, OR), in April, 2013.
I reposted an essay about performance by Amy Sherlock, and strangely feel like it also ties in to this overview, or memorialization or events particularly as it pertains to performance. She writes: “The Abramovic phenomenon in particular has come to exemplify the complicated alliance between performance, the museum, and institutional and commercial gallery spaces. For all its professed immediacy and the emphasis on the ephemeral ‘present,’ MoMA did a good job of packaging up ’the moment’ and circulating it. There are photographs, official catalogue and the feature-length film.” Which is exactly what books do, or (it would seem) plates.
Last, but certainly not least — there was a great hub-bub on Monday between the lush and vibrant images of Paul Germanos and Dana Bassett’s Edition #3 of T (Guess what’s Trending: COUPLES), with a new and fancy pants layout that makes it feel almost like a print publication.
As always — thanks for reading, Chicago et al. We Love You.
Stay Tuned for some writing on performance, Object Oriented Ontology, New York, London, and more coming up this week.
Last September, DePaul Art Museum hosted an epic group exhibition, featuring Imagist artist work on the first floor and a contemporary generation of artists on the second. While those contemporaries have in many respects plotted their own independent and respective courses, there was something refreshing about co-curators,’ Dahlia Tulett-Gross and Thea Liberty Nichols, ability to highlight the visual and theoretical connection between generations. The resulting exhibition, Afterimage, illustrated a visual legacy, reinvigorating the past while demonstrating it’s transformation into the present.
Caroline Picard: Often collaborative curatorial projects come from on-going conversations — how did you two conceive of the Afterimage show?
Thea Liberty Nichols: You’re right on target in thinking that the show evolved through a series of ongoing conversations, but ultimately, Dahlia came up with the idea. She’s connected to a lot of local galleries and has built relationships with dozens of artists. Recognizing a renewed interest in the Imagists among contemporary artists who, rather than obscure or reject their connection to them, prized it, she isolated a certain look or feel that many of those artists shared with the Imagists. She approached me about co-curating with her partly because I had written my thesis on the Imagists. Ultimately, our commitment to showcasing the work of every artist as an individual within the larger context of our show led to the publication of an exhibition catalog, which we were so pleased to include you in!
CP: What was so important about platforming art with writing in the catalogue?
TLN: We were dedicated to creating some enduring historical record since, like Imagism itself, there’s a lot of historical background noise about art writing in Chicago — both its quality and its outlets, or lack there of. In both instances, rather then engage distant and stale debates, we wanted to have a new conversation featuring new voices. We were lucky to work with a whole host of arts writers, including arts journalists, critics, curators and even some visual artists who also write for our publication. go here to read more.
Our big thanks to Julia Hendrickson for last week’s superb series of posts on printmaking and print curators, Sonnenzimmer, Spudnik Press and Corbett vs. Dempsey. This week Thea Liberty Nichols, a Chicago-based arts writer and arts administrator, is guesting on the blog. Starting today, she’ll bring us a series of posts exploring issues in contemporary arts writing.
For these posts, Nichols conducted interviews with friends and colleagues, all of whom are either artists, art writers and/or art administrators and who shared their insight on the various forms their writing takes. They’ll talk about how they define their written work within the constellation of their expansive practices, and how writing can be a tool for expressing themselves and also engaging with others. Chicago folks will remember that Nichols recently organized a panel on the form and content of arts writing in conjunction with Nomadic Studio – an audio recording of that conversation will be available later this week, so check out Thea’s posts for the link when it becomes available.
Here’s the bio scoop on Ms. Nichols, the woman who I’ve always said has a name befitting a rockstar superhero fighting machine – which no doubt she is, in her spare time:
Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer. Formerly, she served as Director of 65GRAND gallery and Study Center Manager at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Presently, she works for The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Visiting Artists Program which selects, hosts and facilitates opportunities to engage with dozens of international contemporary artists via lectures and symposia.
Hello again – I’m back with another quick plug for y’all. Tomorrow night, Chicago arts writer/administrator/curator Thea Liberty Nichols has organized a panel on the “form and content” of arts writing as part of Nomadic Studio, which is presented at DePaul University Museum and organized by the Stockyard Institute for the yearlong collaborative Studio Chicago project….jesus I can’t keep up with it all. Anyway…here is the pertinent who, what, whys and whens of this particular panel, which I think should be really interesting and if it isn’t I will be partly to blame because I will be on it, along with Patrice Connolly, Abraham Ritchie, Bert Stabler and the aforementioned Ms. Nichols, who IMHO has the one of the best names in the world.
Come see us discuss, and participate in the discussion! Also, please check out the whole slate of programs that are part of Nomadic Studio at the Stockyard Institute! And you can read more about the Nomadic Studio project on ArtSlant, right here.
6-8pm –Thursday, September 23rd
Form and Content of Writing w/ Thea Liberty Nichols, Patrice Connolly, Claudine Ise, Abraham Ritchie and Bert Stabler
Panelists will engage in a casual discussion that examines the form (newsprint, published monographs, online journals or blogs) and content (criticism, interviews, exhibition reviews, press releases or scholarly essays) of their writing. Their individual practices, including the texts that inform and inspire them, will be examined alongside the colleagues and organizations with which they collaborate. In conjunction with Studio Chicago, the ways in which their studio environment, and indeed the city itself, contextualizes their practice will also be explored.
Abraham Ritchie is a writer as well as the Editor for ArtSlant: Chicago, the creator and administrator of The Chicago Art Blog on the ChicagoNow network and WordPress, and also writes for NewCity. He has previously written about art for Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago. Along with managing Intuits Study Center, she also acts as Co-Director of 65GRAND
Patrice Connelly is the Curatorial Associate for BMO Financial Group’s Corporate Art Collection where she crafts catalog texts describing and contextualizing the art works in their holdings. She has been contributing freelance art exhibition reviews to Newcity since 2008.
Bert Stabler is a teacher, writer, curator, and artist living in Chicago. He feeds on the living.
Claudine Isé has worked in the field of contemporary art as a curator and writer. Isé was Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She currently writes for artforum.com, art:21 blog, ARTnews, New City, and badatsports.com.