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?

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

Episode One:  obsessions + inceptions: The first of three installments of the meaty interview.

by Rachel Shine


Nell Taylor is the founding captain of the three-year-old Chicago Underground Library that just moved into the Congress Theater building at 2129 N Rockwell. The C.U.L. houses any work ever printed in or about Chicago, as long as it was produced independently.  As a sort of headquarters for the broad Chicago independent scene, it seeks to facilitate and support multi-disciplinary collaboration by offering the community an uncensored collection of books, magazines, broadsheets, journals, zines, newspapers and art books, with a look to audio and other media in the future.

Stephanie Acosta is the first mate of the Chicago Underground Library and a co-founding member of the Anatomy Collective, a Chicago-based performance collective that focuses on experimental theater by incorporating dance, live music and, among other things, interactive text into their works.

Okay, let’s start small and go big. What’s your favorite word?

Nell:  My favorite word for the week, and I don’t necessarily always have them, but I’ve really been obsessed with philobat and ocnophil.

Stephanie:  I’m going to be a lot less intellectual about this.  A word that I picked up off The Soup this week: the vajapocalypse.  It’s what happens when they start talking about the vagina on The View. [laughs] It’s pretty terrible.

Nell, you must define.

Nell:  Originally I read them as being defined as fancy terms for claustropobes and agoraphobes.  But when I actually went and looked them up, it sounded like the definition was more close to somebody who liked to do dangerous things-on-the-edge on their own.  So I’m not really sure what that has to do with being a claustrophobe or an agoraphobe.  But I really like the way that they sound.  And so they’ve been stuck in my head all week and I cannot stop thinking about the word philobat and ocnophil.  I really can’t.  [laughter all around]  No, I really can’t.

At your opening you supplied cards asking visitors for descriptions of their ideal library.  What was your favorite response, Nell?

Nell:  Those were left over from a project that we’d done at the NFO EXPO at VersionFest a couple of years ago.  So we’ve had those for a little while and I just kinda put them out for people to see.  And they’re also on our website now, too, because I just think they’re all fantastic.  My favorite one, I think, is just a drawing of a small rectangular building and then it’s got, what do you call it, it’s got like a helicopter attachment on the top of it, rotors, and it just says “Librarycopter.”

And Stephanie, your favorite?

Stephanie:   What was it . . . I liked the – there was one that was just, like, piles of clouds which I thought was…

Nell:  There was the fluffy white clouds in the magazine rack.

Stephanie: Yeah, I liked that; I liked that one a lot.  Yeah, I think that would work for me.  Between Dwell, National Geographic, you know, and maybe a little Nylon in for guilty pleasure, I think I’d be sort of sorted.

Speaking of sorted, what’s your favorite way to organize?

Nell:  Well, I may get put away after my answer, but all of my cd’s at home are organized alphabetically by artist and then within that by what year each album came out in ascending order.  All of my books are organized by height in descending order, because I don’t like to look at a messy bookshelf even though the rest of my house is complete chaos.  And then I have big architecture books somewhere else because they’re just huge and all about architecture, but otherwise I don’t have anything by subject.  And then at the library, which is also complete chaos until we get our new shelving, everything is organized by theoretical tagging, so we have every single author, every single illustrator, photographer, who ever contributed to it in any way tagged- every subject, every publisher, year, everything about it is gone through by a librarian, and they pull out all those things such as: is it fiction? is it nonfiction? is it about patriotism? -stuff that people couldn’t necessarily get from just doing a term search of the book itself.  So it’s a little bit more involved.  So what happens is all that goes into a pool online and then you can search for it and you can see how things are related.  So you can click on a person’s name if you see in the catalogue item and then bring up every other thing that person’s worked on, and same with subjects, so you

really start to see the way things are connected.  And in order to manifest those connections physically, all the books are just ordered pretty much in the order in which they were received.  I didn’t even want to separate them by different formats at first because I really like the idea of them all being completely interconnected, but now they are broken down into Magazine, Book, Journal, Newspaper, Zine and other just purely for shelving reasons, because otherwise they’d all just need, you know, each one of them has their own sort of sitting needs as far as how you put it physically.  So that was the one concession I made to order.  But otherwise it’s purely the order in which we received it on the shelf so that you can start to see connections physically you might not have noticed before.


posted by Caroline Picard