INTERVIEW: Parking Space


 

Parking Space, a Chicago-based collaborative project initiated by Andrew J. Greene, E.J. Hill, and Matthew Schaffer, opened its second show, This Is Not For Sale, on March 12th.  This Is Not For Sale features work by Annie Purpura, Austin Eddy, Alexa Loftus, Danny Greene, Dorian McKaie, Karen Bovinich, Kristen VanDeventer, Nick Fraccaro, Nina Mayer, Tanner Veatch, and Xavier Jimenez. 

 

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

 

ZING: Let’s start with your name.  Where did it come from?

Matthew Schaffer: I think it was Andrew who came up with it. Our first show was in an abandoned garage and we thought it fitting.  Then we thought that it could be used as a concept: us parking in other people’s spaces to do shows.

Andrew J. Greene: Our name literally refers to the parking structure behind Matt’s apartment that housed our first show, but the idea of a “parking space” refers to the transitory nature of our curatorial practice as well as other “pop up art spaces” found commonly in Chicago.

EJ Hill: There was a two-car garage behind Matt’s apartment that wasn’t really being used for anything. Over the course of a couple months, we transformed the garage from a moldy storage space to Parking Space. And actually, we only had our first show there. That was the Helter Sculpture show at the end of October and it started getting really cold really quickly, so for our second show we moved things upstairs into Matt’s apartment. Then for This Is Not For Sale, we moved to my apartment. We’ve talked a bit about continuing to move around the city to different locations but keeping the name. So I think the name has taken on a completely different meaning since the days of the garage, but yes, Matt’s garage is where it all started.

 

ZING: Now you’re doing a show, This Is Not For Sale, exploring the apartment gallery, something that in my experience seems to be more prevalent in Chicago than other cities.  Why do you think is?

Andrew: I think the alternative art space has thrived in Chicago for the past several decades due primarily to fairly low rent and a Midwestern pride that wants to react against more conventional venues for art viewing. Historically, Chicago has always been a place that has demands attention with an idiosyncratic voice… deep dish pizza, the Sears tower (I guess it is called the Willis Tower now…), Vienna beef, the Cubs.  Maybe the apartment gallery is just the way our art community manifests that gimmick.

EJ: Yeah, I’ve heard this a few times now actually, that Chicago has a rich tradition of apartment galleries and alternative spaces. I haven’t had much exposure to art communities in other cities, so I just assumed that apartment galleries were the norm. I saw a show recently at a space called Medicine Cabinet, which is literally a medicine cabinet in someone’s bathroom. And I haven’t seen this yet, but I’ve been hearing that there’s a gallery inside someone’s purse. This woman walks around with a purse and if you catch her on the street, she’ll open it to show you the current work that’s being exhibited. Bizarre, right? But that’s what I love about living here. It seems if you can think it, you can do it.

 

ZING: In the press release, you state “This Is Not For Sale refuses to ignore the conventions of the alternative art space, opting to embrace the opportunities implicit with operating outside the prevailing structure of the art community.”  It seems strange to think of alternative art spaces abiding by conventions since the idea behind an “alternative” art space seems to be to avoid convention.  Can you define these conventions as you see them, maybe in Chicago in particular?  What opportunities are available outside the structure of the art community? 

Andrew: In my understanding of “the conventions of the alternative art space,” I see the opportunity to take curatorial and artistic risks in a supportive environment (made up mostly of peers) that should be motivated by a desire to move forward with an artistic discourse that attempts in some way to re-contextualize or reposition what it means to make/show art in a contemporary setting. In a sense, an alternative art space should be defined by its innate institutional critique (in its “do-it-yourself” structure) and its ability to react against the short-comings in communication that the commodity driven art market seems to produce.  Unfortunately, the idea of the alternative art space has been marginalized to such an extent that oftentimes its participants forget the “alt space’s” prescribed role as catalyst to the “avant-garde” and only poorly mimic more institutional spaces.  In theory, an alternative art space has the ability to communicate with a much more captive audience than more conventional art spaces and thusly should be motivated to take risks to create a dialogue with that audience.

EJ: Planning this show was a bit tricky in the beginning because we knew we wanted to have it in an apartment but we didn’t want it to be just another apartment gallery show. And that term “alternative space” is a tough one too, because granted, our shows aren’t in white-walled, traditional gallery spaces with track lighting, but how many times can something be alternative before it becomes mainstream? There are apartment galleries all over this city and for the openings, all of the furniture and other objects that are normally in a living space are moved or stuffed into bedrooms and closets, in an attempt to mimic “the real thing.” For this show, we said fuck it, we’re not emptying the living room and moving the TV and couch into bedrooms. This is an apartment, not a commercial gallery. We’re not trying to sell anything or compete with others in any sort of market. We just want to be around good people making interesting work and create dialogue within the larger Chicago art community. And because we’re more concerned with building community and exhibiting work and less concerned with turning a buck, there’s more room for experimentation and taking risks. So we went forward with acknowledging the space for what it is and what it isn’t, and made that the subject of the show.

Matthew: We have the luxury of not having to worry about making money, so we have the freedom to show work that cannot be purchased (performances and site specific works). Opportunities: we can do what we want and don’t have to justify or answer to anyone but ourselves.

 

ZING: Any other thoughts on the Chicago art community?  How do you think it fits in with the national / international art scene?  Are there any regional qualities that make Chicago distinct? 

EJ: On the home front, Chicago is definitely the underdog. You’ve got New York and L.A. as the powerhouse players and a lot of the time, Chicago gets overlooked. I’m still not sure how I feel about that though. Because sometimes I enjoy being a part of a well-kept secret of Chicago being this gem between the two coasts, and other times, I want nothing more than for Chicago to be able to play on the “big kids’ playground.” It’s definitely a more affordable place to live than New York or L.A. and that may contribute to why new galleries and exhibition spaces are popping up all the time in apartments, storefronts and even garages. Chicago is also a huge city with a small Midwestern hometown kind of feel. During my first month of living here, I was riding the subway and working in my sketchbook when the woman sitting next to me started telling me how her children are artists too. Before she got out at her stop, she gave me her card and invited me to dinner so I could meet them. I haven’t been in many cities where people are able to slow down just enough to actually engage with the person sitting next to them, but it seems to happen quite often here.

Andrew: In a way Chicago is self-defeating: too many of our artists continue to leave for NYC or LA, and in general Chicago’s yearn for international “stardom” has always been paradoxical. Chicago demands to be treated as an equal to New York and Los Angeles, but in that demand the city undercuts its potential by acting subservient to other locales. There is a community of people here that have stuck it out and have become successful, but at a certain level of success the majority will always seek a larger pond to be a bigger fish within.
 

 

ZING: How did you find this group of artists? Most of them appear to be Chicago-based.  Is there are reason why you chose mostly Chicago artists?

 

Andrew: We sat down together and thought about whom of our peers could best contribute to the conversation we had started about the apartment's dual role as living space and as art space. Keeping in mind that we wanted to pull from the several communities that are sometimes at odds with each other, we wanted to curate in such a way that positioned somewhat more well known young artists (within Chicago) with lesser known artists as a means to create a platform to democratize who was allowed to participate in the conversation within Chicago.

EJ: When we sat down and came up with the curatorial concept of the show, we considered artists whose work or way of working would best fit that idea. We were familiar with the artists’ work in some capacity and selected them based on their current practice and many of them having shown in apartment galleries several times before. We’re all students as well, so a lot of the artists we’ve met individually or through Parking Space are other students, faculty or administrators at Chicago academic institutions. And these artists are very familiar with the apartment as exhibition space and could speak earnestly about what that means to them and to the rest of the Chicago art community.

Matthew: We are artists in Chicago and we hangout with other Chicago-based artists, so it’s just natural. We would like to build a strong sense of community. Before we started we noticed that there were shows where all students were from either SAIC or Columbia and we thought that it was a bit of a drag that we all couldn’t come together. So, when we choose artists for shows we try to pull from all the art communities in Chicago, and being that Andrew is at SAIC and EJ and I are from Columbia, we have a real opportunity to pull from our respective groups.

 

ZING: The show is titled “This Is Not For Sale.” Will the artwork in the exhibition not be sold?  Given that it’s an apartment show, could it be a reference to real estate? 

Andrew: The work in the show was not for sale. In this way we felt that we were dealing directly with some of the "conventions of an alternative art space," a place where ideas should be more important than potential monetary gain. A majority of the work was made and installed specifically for the space and operated performatively, therefore somewhat negating its marketability as a sellable good. We were also very aware that the title of the show could simultaneously refer to the fact that an apartment is indeed "not for sale," and enjoyed that we could use that title as a starting point for curation.

EJ: Paying bills, buying groceries, buying materials to make art… all of this stuff adds up financially. It would be more than nice to be able to pay for it all by selling work, but generally speaking, the majority of audiences at apartment shows are not there to buy anything. It’s a different kind of vibe and that’s what we wanted to explore with this show. We had agreed that if anyone wanted to buy a work, we would cross that bridge once we got there and so far, it hasn’t come up. As far as a head nod to real estate, I never had that in mind, but it’s interesting you mention that especially since Parking Space doesn’t have a permanent or even consistent home. We’ve had a show in a different space each time, which definitely reflects the living patterns of young people in cities.
 

ZING: Can you elaborate on the statement “This Is Not For Sale demands an artistic discourse where context and concept are directly correlated?” 

EJ: The work in the show directly referenced and interacted with the space as a site for exhibiting artwork but also a site for making toast, sleeping or taking a shower. Since these sites are so unique to Chicago and since we were using my apartment this time, the most exciting part for me was just seeing how the artists would creatively respond to where I live. But I think we were all pretty excited to explore the intersections between the properties of the space itself and the subject of the work in hopes to raise questions about how reliant they are upon one another.

Andrew: An artistic discourse where context and concept are correlated is one where an artist does not ignore site specificity and therefore deals with the baggage of a space or context and allows that context to influence how the work operates conceptually. In "This is Not For Sale," we wanted the artist to be aware of how his or her work dealt directly with how an apartment can function multi-stably as a living space and as a space to show artwork.
 

ZING: Where did you get the idea to start Parking Space?   

Matthew: Andrew and I where playing basketball behind my apartment and next to the court was an old abandoned garage, so we decided to explore it and Andrew jokingly said that we should have a show it here. Then we had some drinks and talked about it some more.  EJ was excited at the idea and it just kinda started from a basketball game, curiosity, and drinking and then a lot of hard work.

Andrew: When we conceived Parking Space, we collectively saw the need to build a bridge between the disparate art communities within Chicago that have been created out of previously existing institutional structures. There was and still is a defined lack of communication within what is a relatively small city. We saw and still see the opportunity to for our city to look inward and prop itself up. Essentially, we have to fight for each other or we face the risk of remaining perpetually subservient to other cities. We saw Parking Space as a small way of doing that.

EJ: It was Matt and Andrew who initially talked about it and I was pumped on the idea. I offered to help out in any way that I could so we made some Home Depot runs a few times, cleaned and painted the garage, fixed some things and off we went.
 

ZING: The three of you are artists, as well.  How do you think this affects your perspective as curators / project co-directors? 

Andrew: Because we are artists, our role allows us to take certain liberties with curatorial decisions that a traditional curator could not make due to monetary restrictions or popularity of idea. As artist-curators it allows us to organize shows around concepts we may not be able to directly manifest within our own work, therefore allowing us to speak in a voice we normally couldn't communicate with.

EJ: We’re more flexible. We understand how artists operate and how important it is to be able to show your work. It’s really a group effort in every sense and not just between the three of us, but for all of the artists involved in our shows. Everyone brings something different to the table and gearing into a show presents us with a very different group dynamic each time. It’s challenging and sometimes really stressful but we all want to show the best work we can. So I think we’re all willing to work very closely with the artists and each other to make that happen. We’re not wearing white gloves and directing people where to arrange things. We’re up on ladders, drilling, getting dirty and installing work too.

Matthew: It is easier to communicate ideas and concepts to a fellow artist than it is to business person.

 

ZING: Who should we look out for in Chicago, in terms of artists / spaces / writers / bands / anything cultural?  Any recommendations for visitors? 

 

Andrew: THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT, I’ll try and be as succinct as possible.

 

Spaces: Monument 2 Gallery, Golden Gallery, Roots and Culture, SubCity Projects, The Suburban, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Shane Campbell Gallery, Dan Devening Projects and Editions, Julius Ceasar, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Happy Collaborationists Space

 

Bands: Dad, White Car, Geffika

 

Matthew: Jettison magazine is a really great (currently) web based publication coming out of Chicago and The Smith Westerns are an amazing young Chicago band.

EJ: Jettison Quarterly is doing huge things here in Chicago. It’s an online publication that you should definitely keep your eye on. Happy Collaborationists Exhibition Space is also making waves. They are committed mostly to performance and installation work and just really great people to work with.

 

ZING: Anything else coming up that people should know about?

EJ: I’m showing a new work titled Solo Exhibition at Happy Collaborationists Exhibition Space on Saturday, April 3rd from 7-10pm. I’ll also be participating in a group performance including Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes of La Pocha Nostra at The Conaway Center at Columbia College on Saturday, April 17th at 5pm. And of course, more shows from Parking Space are sure to come.

Matthew: MORE SHOWS!!!

Andrew: More shows in Chicago... Look for Parking Space and a little taste of Chicago in your city coming soon.

 

 

PARKING SPACE is currently located at 2246 W 19th St, #3R, btw S Oakley Ave and S Leavitt St.  Email them at parkingspacechicago@gmail.com for more information.