Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lantern Projects: The Collective Studio

Zach Dodson
Artist, Writer, Designer
Bleached Whale Design

I've never had a proper 'studio', but this summer I have moved in with a bunch of artists and we've begun to build a collaborative effort in a very studio-like space: a temporary gallery and office spot in the Ukrainian Village of Chicago. I thought it might be interesting to examine what we are creating together in the space from the perspectives of the four main folks involved: Caroline Picard, Devin King, Abby Satinsky, and me, Zach Dodosn. This four-part blog, everyone will give their take on what's been happening in the 'summer studio' that has become Lantern Projects.

A Summer of Architectures

I have always thought of studios as sites of investigation: physical spaces in which one can spread out and examine everything collected over the course of an interest. It is a selfish space, a place intended for indulgence and freedom and fearlessness. For that reason it always felt a little untoward to consider the Green Lantern a personal studio --because facilitating the work of others really only works when the facilitator gives up control. Nevertheless the project has become it's own process of investigation--perhaps especially because in order to give up control of the outcome, one must have a very study administrative structure. There is an art in that structure. An artistic desire to develop a cohesive environment with clear intentions--such that any future activity has the freedom to grow around and through that structure organically. It's one thing for one person to develop that--quite another for a group of people to develop that structure together.

I always think about the project as an artistic endeavor--particularly now that we are trying to explore a possible reciprocity between a non-profit and for-profit model. The physical space becomes an opportunity to manifest a rather large notion: The goal of this project is to create a new sustainable culture that supports contemporary art practice, while simultaneously building bridges between those different practices.

In moving from an apartment to a storefront space in the Ukrianian Villiage that suddenly incorporates not just one person but four regular administrator/brain-stormers, the project itself becomes a collaboration. Between Zach and Abby and Devin and myself, we are all the time working through issues, troubleshooting and of course celebrating aspects of the space. This summer was particualrly interesting because there was so much theoretical sketching going on; sometimes it felt like we were talking about a pipe dream. (Sometimes it still does feel like we are talking about a pipe dream). We met once a week at 2542 W Chicago and tried to plan as best we could the next steps. This included the gallery programming, developing an on-line presence, developing an on-line shopping cart for our forthcoming bookstore, while also meeting with other artists and writers and performers to see what kind of projects we host in the fall. Through a series of long conversations over the summer and into the now, we have snipped and tweaked and pulled our vision into shared focus. Over the course of those conversations, our surrounding environment also changed, going from empty (one visitor suggested we were "squatting in an office") to painted, to furnished to open with artwork and artist talks and screenings.

While developing our physical and administrative environment, we inadvertently began establishing a working relationship as well. I always feel like relationships develop the same way brains do. In other words where new experiences carve out new pathways in the brain, pathways which are then used again and again, I feel like a similar thing happens when you're hanging out or working with people for the first time: new communication pathways have to be built, styles of relating have to be established in order to solidify a common ground on which jokes and hard work can rely on. I feel like the empty space of our nascent summertime Green Lantern was a studio for our collaboration, as much as it functioned as a space to develop our relationships. Because I feel like studios are essentially private places, places where things develop confidence through risk, so our empty storefront was a place to, simply, spend time together.

One of my main concentrations was to look for a more permenent space. Over the course of the summer I probably saw between 20 and 30 spaces. Every Wednesday I would give an update. I would also draw out the floorplans of the most interesting possibilities. In those floorplans, we daydreamed collectively, discussing how to prioritize and organize a given (and more or less imaginary) space: Where to put the bookstore? Where the gallery? How many people would we fit in this performance space? In that action too, an action of sketches, we further articulated something cohesive--even though it lacked definite physicality.

Inviting David Moré into our space was the final step before opening our doors. David was a fifth party--our first guest. He tested the structure we had been building over the preceding three months. And of course there was a really lovely parallel in his studio-oriented project, which resonated in our own process of development.

--Caroline Picard


This was our first project at Green Lantern, Normal Bias, a minor business venture by artist David Moré. From August 21st – September 11, Moré set up a studio in the gallery space and welcoming passers-by to participate in his free service: a portrait studio rendering the customers’ likeness in sound. The finished portraits were documented on audiocassette. To take part, visitors invited to visit the space during the hours of operation and there was a group portrait on the night of the opening. The accompanying exhibition from September 11th through 18th included sound portraits recorded over the month as well as a site-specific installation that utilizes the physical, architectural space as an instrument for an experimental, auditory composition.

Our thematic exhibitions and artist projects are thought experiments, models for critical and social engagement, poetic ruminations, and interrogations of the creative process from all angles. We hope to be a center for artists’ research, meaning that we highlight the process through which artists’ arrive at their creative ideas, rather than the product of their inquiry. We also support a transdisciplinary and transgressive wandering across contemporary art and its history as well as politics, social history, economics, science, and other bodies of knowledge, to get there. At the same time, we believe in critically investigating what is being produced by artists’ research and asking what marks the difference between art as one’s life “work” and living life creatively everyday. In other words, what do artists know? We hope to welcome many more artists that will use the Green Lantern as an open studio for their investigations and contribute to a public dialogue about the process of making things.

-- Abigail Satinsky


The idea of a studio is alien to me, I'll admit. The reason being I've never thought of myself as a fine artist. The reason for that being, I don't produce fine art. Graphic design usually falls on the other side on the fence from art, and my education and practice has traditionally had a lot more to do with design than art.

That being said, I'm thrilled to find myself among artists, in an art space, that could rightfully called a studio. It's a very eclectic version of a studio, and I think stretches the definition, but that's part of what our experiment is about. Plus, there's lots of overlap. And that overlap is a great place for innovation, for all of us. Even though I might be the least involved in the art world of the four of us, I have had a hand in the creation of the look and design collateral of the space in a big way. And collaborating on that has been a lot of fun. We eventually arrived at the idea of a Secret Society, cloaked in symbology. Rather than a closed entity though, we have a Secret Society that's open to the public, with symbols which are easily decipherable. The only bar to admission is showing up and hanging out. Working out the look and logos for the various part of the space was a great design project, and one where I could bring my poor art skills to bear.

One thing I've learned here though, is that art practice extends to all things. Caroline considers the entire business her art practice. Abby and Bryce have introduced me to the practice of 'Arts Administrators' (though I call them Art Bosses, cause that's easier). Devin tells great jokes.

Figuring out how the various pieces of the puzzle relate to each other, and how they don't has been a long tangled process this summer. We've mashed all the ideas together, we've pulled them apart, and I think, arrived at a very finely balanced structure of really very different sorts of arts organism co-habitating the same space. As the bookstore arm, I feel I'm the least fully realized so far, as we have only one measly shelf of books for sale, in a very unserious way. Devin's performances series have started and Abby and Caroline have worked hard on mounting the art shows. Me, I'm working on an online shopping cart and check-out system for our new independent press bookstore, The Paper Cave, and it's coming great, but I don't have much that's public at the moment. I'm just happy to be in a cave-like, studio-like space drawing weird pictures.

--Zach Dodson


Most of the work I did this summer in advance of the Corpse Performance Space at the Green Lantern Gallery didn’t need a studio space—meeting people for coffee is always an option and, during the earlier summer months, I tried to have as many planning sessions outside, in the park, with a nice salad or some bread and cheese. Which is to say, since most of the work I was doing this summer was chasing performers and artists and musicians down and trying to talk them into planning a series at our space, I didn’t need a space to show them anyways.

Well, sort of. By August, it became clear that even though most of the series curators knew the space was going to be last minute, that last minute was arriving and we needed to figure out how things were going to work. I ended up having to cancel some of the larger performances and scale back some of our ideas; four hour readings with jugglers and acrobats (really) became your normal 60 minute three author and discussion after; performers known for working with large piles of dirt were asked if it might be possible to do something in the spring when we were, hopefully, in a larger, more permanent space.

Which isn’t to say that I’m disappointed in what we ended up with—we’ve still got a 9 person improv night planned and some amazing reading and film series. Only that, as with most projects, artistic or otherwise, there’s been editing. Normal, banal editing within or without a studio.

--Devin King

Zach Dodson is an active member of many different arts communities, forging connections between the worlds of design and literature. He has launched such experiments as Featherproof Books, Bleached Whale Design, and The Show N' Tell Show. His hybrid typo/graphic novel, boring boring boring boring boring boring boring, was released under the nom de plume Zach Plague. His Art Direction credits include shelter, Echo, and MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine. His design has appeared in Newcity, Punk Planet, Resonance, TimeOut Chicago, Mule, and Bagazine. His writing has appeared in Monsters & Dust, ACM, Take the Handle, and Proximity Magazine. In 2009 he was named to Newcity’s Top 50 Literary Figures in Chicago.

All Images Courtesy of the Artist

1 comment:

  1. I'm really excited about this! And that logo rules.

    Laura P.