Interview w/the Chicago Underground Library: Part Three

January 22, 2009

Episode three: open

by Rachel Shine

The last episode of the interview with Nell Taylor, captain of the Chicago Underground Library and Stephanie Acosta, first mate of the C.U.L. and co-founding member of the Anatomy collective.

You share a physical space with AREA and InCUBATE.  How has that helped to facilitate a sense of community and dialogue?

Nell:  Well, what’s cool about that is that we all have slightly overlapping missions in different ways. InCUBATE is an images-1artist residency program; they pull people in from all over.  AREA explores arts research education [and] activism – I think I said that actually in the exact order – so they do a lot of cross-disciplinary research in tracking organizations.  We’re still talking about ways we can all work together, and we’re looking forward to it.  But that wouldn’t necessarily reach back to the Anatomy Collective.  It’s funny.  A lot of people in the last couple of years have been working on charts and graphs maps trying to show these connections visually, so I’m kind of seeing that in my head right now and visualizing a lot of connections that people aren’t realizing or that kind of dead end before you get somewhere else and I feel like it could create a lot of opportunities for collaboration if people just knew what else was going on in the city.  Even if it has nothing to do with them.

Stephanie:  What Nell and I have talked about a lot is the hyper specialization in the consumer America world- that people are getting so educated in one thing that that’s all they can do, that everything has its place.  The idea of retaking the word dilettante is very exciting to me.  I can’t be great at everything, but it’s not actually a negative thing for me to have multiple n657396778_682839_9552interests and try to understand multiple things.  That makes me more accessible to more of the world than if I can only think and only embrace the one thing that comes naturally to me.  How is that reaching out?  Yet that’s exactly what a lot of the arts community has done.  That’s part of why I run a collective rather than a company.  It’s not that we are as multi-disciplinary as I hope we will someday be, but I want that door to have started open, rather to have to force it open [later] with the idea that the Chicago Underground Library can be a member of the Anatomy Collective.  It’s about how we interact rather than working in a vacuum.  For sure I think that that has happened in the literary world and in the music world; everybody is in such a rush to self-define that they reject anybody else that might have something to contribute that [doesn’t do] what they do, which is exactly why they need to access it.

Nell:  A very current example for me: [I’ve installed] a display at the Art Institute Flaxman Library of things from our collection.  The Art Institute has an amazing art books collection; they also have an amazing art periodicals collection.  How do I use my collection to make people think about art in a different way?  First I tried to look at it from a collaboration standpoint; can I find examples of artists working in things that aren’t necessarily art-based?  Artists collaborating with community groups, artists doing work with poets, artists working with musicians, things that would make [visual art] come off in a different way. But it’s hard to do that because that’s really a reflection of the subject matter that it’s tackling in the first place.  So I started to think about it from an audience perspective.  So, now if instead of its being about what artists are producing, what if it has to do with who the artists’ audience is?  How do I find work that’s not just artists making work for other artists, which it so often is?  And that’s when it starts to really get interesting for me because it is such a challenge, especially on a community level. In Chicago, everyone is making their performances for other performers – that’s who’s watching it, you know, you’re writing for other writers, you’re making your art for other artists, so how do I find things that reflect art directed to a different audience?  And that sort of defines the message of this library: how do you make people think about things differently?

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