OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews The Visualist

OtherPeoplesPixels is pleased to sponsor The Visualist, a Chicago visual arts calendar. OPP recently sat down with two of its three founders, Steve Ruiz and Chad Kouri, to chat about the project's inspiration, mission, and recent & upcoming highlights.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your project, The Visualist: Chicago Visual Arts Calendar, follows On The Make, a calendar project developed by Karly Wildenhaus. Tell me about the history of both projects and how The Visualist came to be.

Steve Ruiz: Some quick history: Karly started On The Make with Brad Troemel back in 2009. Originally, the site was a more journalistic blog platform, but they pulled that down and reinvented it as a stripped down curated events calendar. 

Chicago already had plenty of arts calendars in 2009—and still does—but the unique nature of the city's visual art scene meant it was more of a collection of smaller scenes, not all geographically related, which made it difficult to identify what was going on, where, and who would be interested in what. Additionally, many alternative spaces stayed away from advertising altogether, or passed info last minute on Facebook or twitter. On The Make's editors solved this by just focusing on those events that they were actually interested in attending, and this created a very valuable resource for a smaller insider audience of contemporary artists, curators, students, and professionals. While that sounds exclusive, most of the events they listed wouldn't have been covered anywhere else, and having a personally organized calendar was often most useful in conjunction with broader calendars.

Like many others, I used the hell out of On the Make and felt it was a crucial center for a community as spread out as Chicago's. I'm more of an artist / critic than a developer, but When Karly announced she'd be shutting the project down at the end of the summer, she and I met up and discussed the site and where she imagined it going. It wasn't until a few months later that I was able to get together with Chad [Kouri] and Jenny [Kendler] to put a successor project in motion. Karly passed us all of the data from On the Make and I spent August writing a new website around it according to Chad's killer designs.

I'd say The Visualist is our effort to provide the city of Chicago with a centralized calendar for visual art events. A lot more goes on than what I might add or approve, so I often encourage readers to check  ArtSlant, Chicago Art Map, Chicago Reader, NewCity, Bad at Sports, or other visual arts calendars or event lists. The value of The Visualist is its curation; every event I put on the site is something I'd personally recommend.

OPP: Fantastic, walk me through the website!

Chad Kouri: The whole idea for this site was to do one thing: showcase the best of the best events in the city and archive them in one place. No interviews, no blog posts, no commenting or any other content to muck it all up. There are a lot of calendars sites here in Chicago that are very well done in the city but they are all a small part of a bigger website and typically not super user friendly. Our goal was to have one site you can go if you were looking to go out that night / weekend and get in and out with the info you wanted without any of the info you don't need. Our Facebook Like Buttons are a good way for people to easily share an event with friends.

SR: I actually use Facebook heavily when gauging the events that are submitted. On its own, Facebook is a noisy calendar—but since new spaces open up all the time in Chicago, I'll check an unknown space's event listing there to see who's running it and who is attending. Occasionally I'll miss a name change or one-off event and only know what it is from the fact that half of my artist friends are planning on stopping by.

OPP: The Visualist is a project by three artists, yourselves (Chad Kouri and Steve Ruiz) and OtherPeoplesPixels co-founder Jenny Kendler. Can you talk about each of your art practices and other involvements in Chicago’s art(s) worlds?

CK: I co-run a collaborative art and design incubator called The Post Family with six other dudes. What other cool stuff am I involved in. . . hmmm. . . I art directed Proximity Magazine for a number of years here in the city and I have done numerous curatorial projects both online and in physical spaces: Co-prosperity Sphere, The Chicago Cultural Center and Chicago Urban Arts Society to name a few of the physical spaces. As for online stuff I started Margin Detail (a now defunct doodle blog), I write book reviews focusing on artist sketchbooks on book-by-its-cover.com and have done some guest writing on studiochicago.org. I've also shown my personal work at a handful of Chicago spaces including Ebersmoore, MVSEVM (rip), Johalla Proects, A+D Gallery and a handful of others. 

Steve Ruiz
Big Loop
Gouache, Graphite, and Ink on Paper, 8" x 9.5"

SR: I'm a practicing artist and writer who writes about art, currently working on my MFA at the University of Chicago, and recently described myself as an artist interested in what other artists do—the work they make, what they do with it, and the actions artist's take within their professional and social circles. Most people who know me probably know me by my writing, which I began as editor of Chicago Art Review and later on ArtSlant, Jettison Quarterly, NewCity, and for a little group I started on Facebook called #chiart to facilitate inter-art-generational conversation. My personal site is at steveruizart.com, but googling me is probably better. 

In general, no matter what I'm working on, I try to operate in the community with a kind of active criticality. For example, I could write a paper about the importance of centralized calendars for dispersed communities, but that sounds a lot less interesting than just building a calendar and helping demonstrate that importance. Or I could complain about people my age not knowing what the Uncomfortable Spaces were, but I'd rather link them to spaces.org or invite them to #chiart. Chicago's art community is strongly defined by this kind of "go do something" criticism so I'm happy to be working within that tradition.

OPP: You are both incredibly informed about art events happening in Chicago. Do you make a point to attend much of what you post on The Visualist? What has impressed you recently?

CK: At this point Steve is doing most of the posting for the site. And he gives me some good ideas of what to attend! Most of the things I would add he is already on top of. But yes, I do try to go to as many arts events as I can each week. I average about 2-3 most weeks I think. Maybe a little less lately since I have been traveling for work. But going to art shows and lectures and such is free knowledge! Why avoid it?

SR: I'm from the western suburbs but didn't go to college in Chicago, so when I came back I think I over-compensated for that by going to as many shows as I could and writing like eighty reviews (or something equally reflective of how little else I was doing). That has dropped off a bit since starting grad school but I hope to continue to see plenty. Recent highlights have been Timothy Bergstrom / Volker Saul at Dan Devening Projects + Editions and Hennessy Youngman's presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

OPP: What is next for you both and for The Visualist?

CK: I'm hoping to start a publication of my own in the coming year. In the short term working on a collaborative mural with Ina Weise, Rod Hunting, Nick Butcher, Nadine Nakanishi and Ryan Duggan... preparing to leave for Portland next week with Margot Harrington to speak at Portland State University and working on a show with Stephen Eichhorn and Cody Hudson at Purdue called Studio Vour that opens early 2012. Otherwise just lovin' life, catching some local jazz heads jammin' from time to time and trying not to rush around so much. 

SR: I'm working with a few projects here at school, reading, making, and trying to avoid getting hit by cars. Philip Von Zweck's copy-machine project that I hosted at last year's MDW Fair is going to Performa in a few weeks so I'll have a drawing there for that, and a text piece in the next SCRIPTjr.nl. As always, a few other projects too up in the air to call. Trying to use Google+ more.

There are a lot of small improvements still on The Visualist's todo list, so once I get through those I'll be looking to improve the site's core functionality, streamline the event submission process, and perhaps include some of the post-event content that I demoed on Opencrit.com—user photos, critical collection, and carefully implemented commenting. However, like Chad mentioned above, we maintain a tight focus on what's up and what's good in Chicago's art.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Molly Schafer

Specters / Bloodwrath; At my end I will take you with me
Graphite, acrylic, colored pencil on paper
60" x 48"

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think the concept of “going feral” shapes your work? It seems to factor into a number of your works dating back to your 2006 video Centaurides, in which a computer modified child—like voice shares her fantastical observations and dreams; most of which involve a desire to break—free from the mundane, civilized, or unjust.

Molly Schafer: Yes exactly!  “Going feral” is my out to the mundane daily human life.  As I see it back in the day we had it all—tons of time outside, traveling around with the seasons, NOT MULTITASKING, self-reliance, physical strength and endurance, being in the moment and more connected to nature/each other/other animals/Earth/the universe… and then we decided to live in dark, dirty cities buy stuff from stores and sit in offices all day. Blah who wants that? Well it turns out lots of people do. And the idea of “going feral” becomes threatening to society. Perhaps it partially represents everyone’s underlying longing for freedom and/or fear of that desire.

Feral is a term referring to a domesticated creature that has returned to a semi-wild state. In a way, a hybrid state of being—not truly wild, no longer domesticated. I related that to the work I was doing with lady centaurs, themselves a hybrid of woman and horse.

While in graduate school I received feedback that people had trouble relating to the centaurs since they didn’t reflect their own human bodies (unimaginative, no?) so I decided to take that wildness and hybridity I depicted through the physical body of the centaur into a fully human body having gone feral. A major influence on this work is my first entry point into this theme: young adult novels featuring a girl who has isolated herself from society, lives in the wild with an animal companion.

I have had a life-long desire to live in one of those narratives, and I do realize it is slightly silly but I am sincere in that longing. My journey to and stay on Asseateague Island with my cat was my attempt to access a bit of that world. The trip resulted in a body of work Dawn Horse. The drawings in that work reflect the iconic images on the cover of such novels, often the only image in the whole book, their function is to only tell part of the story.

Clan of the Cave Girl (We went feral y'all)
Graphite & watercolor on paper
20" x 20"

OPP: Hearing a child-like voice narrate Centaurides makes me curious about what you liked to draw as a child. What were your early sketchbooks like?

MS: Ha. Yes they weren’t too different from now. Animals, girls/women. More penguins (I was into penguins way before it was cool). My brother and I grew up drawing while we watched TV. Our parents were/are artists.

My junior high sketchbooks featured pencil drawings of awesome punk girls playing guitar. Lots of piercings, Mohawk hairdos, Tribe 8 shirts, L7 tattoos. The boys I knew were into drawing dragons, wizards and punk dudes. They always had trouble getting that we were into the same things. The gender difference or concept/awareness of gender (dragons vs unicorns) was so huge they couldn’t see past it. Not to mention they were intimidated by my skills. Lame.

Ha ha.

I dunno I’ve always liked drawing mice. I guess I’ve always fell somewhere between Beatrix Potter and fantasy novel art. Which may explain my limited successes.

Still From Barrier Island
digital video

OPP: Your arctic-looking house cat plays a prominent role in your video from your Barrier Island series. In reviewing images from your subsequent solo show, Dawn Horse, at Lump Gallery in Raleigh, NC, I noticed at least three other pieces that include visual references to your cat; one that even lists “my cat's fur” in the material list. Can you speak about the role your cat plays in your artmaking? Where does your house cat fit in your work’s relationship to real and imagined animals like centaurs what you describe as “similar hybrids”?

MS: Well I’m glad someone is reading my detailed descriptions of media. Yes that is my boo. His name is Sid and he has been my dawg for 18 years now. I’ve always tried to let him be a cat and as wild as he wants to be.

Once I took Sid to hang out in a park in Pennsylvania (where we both were born and raised) after an hour or so of us just chillin in some woods he started loosing control. He ran around, ate some rabbit poop and got this crazy look in his eye—shiny and wild, like he didn’t recognize me. There are moments—the realization there is no leash and he can run far, when he is at the top of the tree and is considering leaving me—when I dare say he is hearing the call of the wild. Those moments were fascinating and frightening. I related to them and was inspired by that to make this work.

As I mentioned earlier I wanted to live like the characters in my favorite novels—Reindeer Moon, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins. These characters all had a faithful friend/sidekick who was a non—human animal. I had Sid. And I wanted to see how feral he would go. So we went to Assateague Island to get weird.

Also I mainly make my objects out of whatever I have around with a nod to the materials used by and usefulness of the characters in those novels. Often they validate the killing of animals by using all of it’s parts. I don’t really kill anything for parts but do want animal parts in my work. Sid has plenty of fur to spare. And he and I are linked in a way that it adds meaning and magic to work parts of us into objects.

OPP: Your drawings of animals, centaurs and similar hybrids are often incredibly detailed. What kind of research goes into creating each piece?

MS: Hmm looking at books— field guides, pony guides, Equus Magazine. Reading about how their parts work. I also spent time with and photographed my aunt’s horses. Observing creatures in the wild or growing up around them helps. Just getting to know them. Repeatedly sketching. Honestly I have one trick that I think works best but I consider it a trade secret. Let’s just call it “becoming animal” because I like phrases that sound like the cover of hilarious fantasy novels.

Endangered Species Print Project

OPP: Your own art practice is hybrid in nature. You maintain an individual art practice exhibiting your work widely but also operate outside of the gallery system using your artistic talents to directly support conservation efforts and biodiversity as the co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). Let’s talk about what ESPP is, how it got started, and how it relates to your work as an individual artist.

MS: Sure. The Endangered Species Print Project, according my collaborator Jenny Kendler, is our brain-love child. We both have strong feelings about conserving biodiversity on this planet.  We had been fumbling around looking for a way to use our artistic talents and skills to benefit a cause we cared about and to make an impact. ESPP is our best version of those efforts. ESPP sells limited-edition prints of critically endangered species. Prints are editioned to reflect the remaining population count of the species depicted. For example, there are only 37 Seychelles sheath-tailed bats remaining in the wild. So only 37 prints of my drawing of this bat will ever be made. Currently 100% of the proceeds from print sales are donated to a conservation organization working to conserve the species on the front lines.

When we started it was only Jenny and me. We have grown to include many guest artists, a blog, and an ESPP extended family which includes artist Christopher Reiger, OtherPeople’sPixels, who sponsors the project, Michael Czerepak of the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) Service Bureau who masterfully prints our work (and who asked me to marry him), and P.O.V. Evolving in Los Angeles, who handle our large print orders. Our work would not be possible without the help of the conservationists and organizations that we partner with nor without the many people who buy ESPP prints!

How it relates to my work as an individual artist? Well, for awhile it has taken over most of my studio time! Jenny and I do ESPP in our spare time. It quiets questions that may interrupt my concentration while drawing like “Why didn’t I go back to school for mammology instead of studio arts?” and “Shouldn’t I be doing something less selfish than this?”

OPP: What are you working on now?

MS: I’m in one of those stages were I am doing lots of little stuff, working up to the next big thing. So I’m slowly working on some books, maybe they fall into the graphic novel category with the chimp hybrid women I was drawing a few years back, I still have a few paintings to make to round out the Dawn Horse work. I’m also working on a collaborative project with artist and pal Tory Wright. I’ve collected a bunch of video and text to make a new narrated video, but at the moment I’m planning the piece to incorporate a good amount of hand drawn animation so I predict this will be a years long project. I’m fascinated/jealous of large predators so I collect pics of them on my blog Megafauna .

I’m moving into a new studio soon so I’m looking forward to that!  Honestly, I’m designing my wedding invitation. Is that lame? So far it features an eagle, a hawk, a peacock, a fox, a bear, a badger and a hare. I think someone else but I’m not sure. Oh! That’s right a slow loris.

To view more of Molly Schafer’s work visit mollyschafer.com.

OPP Sponsors threewalls' Hand-in-Glove Conference

Logo Design by Plural

OtherPeoplesPixels is pleased to partner with the upcoming Hand-in-Glove Conference organized by threewalls with the Alliance for Independent Arts Organizers (AIAO) in conjunction with the MDW Fair. Hand-in-Glove will take place in Chicago October 20-23, 2011 and pre-registration is happening now (through October 8th). While the going is hot, we invited co-organizer Abigail Satinsky, Director of Programming at threewalls to fill us in on the Conference's inspiration, mission, and highlights.

AS: Hand-in-Glove is a new, semiannual conference that addresses the pragmatic realities and imaginative possibilities of self-organized, noncommercial and artist-run spaces, publications, residencies, and a variety of other pro jects that challenge traditional formats for the production and reception of art at the grass-roots level. PHONEBOOK 3, released at the Hand-in-Glove Conference and available for sale thereafter, is the essential guide for artists and arts administrators looking to connect with others in this ever-changing realm of independent artist-run culture, including everything from nonprofit and community institutions to flexible and self-organized art spaces, alternative schools, and event series. PHONEBOOK 3, in its third edition, contains over 750 listings of projects and essays by the people that run them.

Designed for both the artists who participate in these spaces and the organizers, administrators, and curators who run them, Hand-in-Glove is for anyone and everyone who participates in artist-run culture in order to talk about its past, current manifestations and potential futures. Conversations will range from sustainability to funding to unconventional organizing models, as well as the kind of creative administrative strategies people are using to stay open.  

Oftentimes, it’s  a make-do approach to keeping an artist space open or getting a publication printed. Support is usually a combination of personal donations, small amounts of grant money, the copy machine at work, and a Kickstarter campaign. At Hand-in-Glove, we want to network with each other for larger solutions as well as discuss the ethics of starting small and keeping small, the compromises of becoming bigger and the inventive problem solving that keeps independent culture alive and well. This is a creative conversation that should be collectively authored amongst artists and their support structures, taking into account the people and the economies that make things happen.

Hand-in-Glove brings together speakers from across the country that have started micro-granting initiatives, residency programs that are about learning to live off the grid, veterans of artist spaces, executive directors of venerable institutions, and amateurs. We will be hosting arts organizers from Minneapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, New Mexico, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Oregon, New York, and many other places. Martha Wilson of Franklin Furnace Archive, Mark Allen from Machine Project, writer Lane Relyea, Renny Pritikin, founder of the National Association of Artists Organizations, Ted Purves, artist and MFA Program Chair at California College of the Arts, and keynote Nato Thompson, curator at Creative Time (and former Chicagoan), will give their take on artist-run organizing of the last 30 years and its future. We hope you can join us!

Pre-registration (before October 8) is $100 and includes lunch on both Friday and Saturday (catered by Roots & Culture Community Kitchen) and continental breakfast on all three days. Registration at the door or after October 8 is $50/per day with no food included. We have scholarships and student discounts available, please check our website.

We also have a special offer from OtherPeoplesPixels: $25.00 off any new website account for the first year of service for every conference attendee. Email Abigail (at) three-walls.org with questions or to claim your discount.