An Interview w/ the Chicago Underground Library Part Two

January 21, 2009

Episode two: projections + protections

by Rachel Shine

A continuation in the interview series with Nell Taylor, founding captain of the Chicago Underground Library and Stephanie Acosta, first mate of the C.U.L. and co-founding member of the Anatomy Collective.


Who is your ideal patron of the library?  How does he or she use it?

Nell:  There’s a couple different ways that I see it being used.  One, of course, is for research.  Another component that I see, which is my big reason, my sort of selfish reason for starting it in the first place, is [as] an inspiration point for people.  I just think, how cool would it be for someone else to just stop to go through stuff like Stephanie’s done, to use it as a starting point for new work?  Because [with] a lot of this stuff, even if you do collect it, and even if it’s open to the public, the odds of the public actually seeing it are still pretty slim.  If you can encourage somebody to look at it and make something new out of it, the odds of it being seen are much greater, even if it’s just somebody’s interpretation of it.  So I try to find active ways to get people to use the collection that aren’t just using it for reference or aren’t just using it as a repository for their own work.  It’s great source material; it’s amazing history material; it’s a whole context of creative work in Chicago that you wouldn’t normally get if you were in your own scene or even if you just went to the historical society or to the public library.  Our collection has a much wider, broader pool of strange things.  If you can’t find a connection to yourself in those collections, then you can probably find a forbearer in ours.

Stephanie, can you tell me a little about the work you created that was inspired by the Chicago Underground Library?

Stephanie:  Being a local artist in Chicago and wanting to do new work  – there was something weird to me about how many companies are always doing new work, but new work by a New York playwright or new work by a Polish playwright.  And by no means do I want to suggest that that’s not significant, but we’re in Chicago, and there is something specifically Chicago about Chicago performance and so to not acknowledge something like the literary world, you know, the indie literary world of Chicago while you’re trying to be an indie performance artist seemed really against itself, you know?  So I was already really psyched about that and contacted Nell because I thought there was no way there wasn’t something to be done collectively as organizations.  But then once I spent some time there and the careful textures of the pages, or the way something was put together sloppy or carefully and meticulously, those things told me so much.  And it was a reminder about the textile aspect of that kind of publication.  Because I consider performance and design such a textile thing, it gave me another place to jump off from that wasn’t just the words or the subject, but was actually the thing itself and that the thing itself has value beyond just the language or the images it carries.  It’s its own entity and tells you a lot about Chicago at that time, you know.  The late 90’s publications tell you a lot about what was going on in Chicago at a huge time of change not only in the world of literature, but kind of a post-punk world of how do we stay independent, how do we stay alternative, how do we stay honest in a world that’s going global?  And that desperation is in the handwriting of that time and there’s no way I could have [seen] that at the Harold Washington.

And the work that we did, we’ve written two projects, one of which still has to go up, but the first one was based on a short-lived series called Dumpsterland and we took that and spent some deep time with all of the language and decided to do basically a collaged script based on the language that was in that series and then use all the language that was to be spoken as the texture of the piece.  So there were words written on everything from pieces of costume to the floors to all the walls to the ceiling; there was really nothing in the space that wasn’t covered with the language and as the actors moved through the space they would discover their language intertwined with other bits of language from the show, and every word you were looking at was at some point spoken.


posted by Caroline Picard


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