Event: Brit Barton’s Sitting Ovation

Event Date: February 2

Time: 6:00pm

Location: The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario St.

This Thursday evening, Brit Barton, The Club’s first Artist Fellow, enacts a work about interdisciplinary practice, site, permanence, and documentation entitled Sitting Ovation. The annual Visual, Literary and Performing Artist fellowship was awarded to Barton in August of 2016, and the upcoming program will be the first showing of her work at The Arts Club during her fellowship. Initially planned as an artist talk in the gallery, Barton’s event rapidly evolved into something much more, and at the same time something much less. In her site-specific work, Barton engages with the idea of absence…absence of the artist, absence of explication, and absence of a commodifiable art object. As instructions for attendees of Thursday night’s Sitting Ovation enactment, she offers the following:

  1. Mind your posture.
  2. Square your shoulders.

Immediately, the onus is on the audience to be self-aware. We have a task. We’re not coming to the gallery to watch something happen as much as we’re coming to have an experience during which we remain conscious of ourselves and our reactions to whatever might be surrounding us. Barton’s Sitting Ovation is a carefully-crafted environment, and we, the audience, are its inhabitants.

Earlier this month, Barton was interviewed by artist and curator Max Guy about her work. Read on to learn more.

-Jenna Lyle, Programs Manager

MG: In a past life you were a photographer, what types of photos did you take?

BB: I was interested in images, and still am, that document empty or minimally inhabited space.

Towards the end of college and again in graduate school, I started looking closer at architectural typologies that were basically spaces designed for temporary encounters. So, initially, I thought a lot about hotels and the suspension of disbelief they encourage. The quality is negotiable. This is your bed, your bathroom, your space, for as long as you are willing to pay for it.

I realized quickly that my interest in temporality within liminal space was rooted in an institutional critique of academia. I let some time pass, but ultimately came back to thinking about site and the body more critically through media beyond photography.


Brit Barton, Untitled (Pavilion AP No. 5) (2016)

In general, I think I am interested in architecture and documentation while being entirely suspicious of them. My work is about that suspicion.

MG: How did you come to work the way that you do now?

BB: The majority of my practice deals with space and time that is site-specific. There was a turning point when I refused to make any more object work, like sculpture or painting. In other words, I realized that I am not a “studio artist” per se, and I embraced that fact.

What I’m interested in, and what I keep coming back to in my moving image, sound, or action-based work, are the principles of photography, i.e. optics, seriality, or mechanics. But it is never bound to the notion of sight entirely; there is a tension to other senses like hearing or touch that I am drawn to. I think especially about artists like Lygia Clark, who created things to hold or wear to be manipulated or complicated, walking a fine line between spectatorship and participation.

MG: You often use ambivalent language speaking of “gestures,” “machines” and “synopses” as a way of eluding disciplines and genres. How much of what you do is a project of defining and setting these terms?

BB: I am controlled about language, especially when it comes to writing. It is the framing of the work that I won’t compromise. I use the term “gesture” as opposed to “performance” because I am not a performance artist. I am an artist and I use whatever is the best strategy to convey an idea.

I think that the word “gesture” is aligned much more with drawing and the notion of a sketch; it’s brief, done in 5 minutes or less, a little gritty and unrefined. The delivery is slower to interpret. Waiting is involved. You may have to see a few over time to realize the bigger picture.

MG: You document your live works through “synopses” the day after they happen. Would you elaborate on that term in relation to your happenings and their scores? What liberties does writing in retrospect allow you as opposed to instructive text?

BB: A synopsis indicates an account that is often brief but inevitably biased. It is just as much apart of my work as the gesture itself in it’s matter-of-factness. Leaving some time between experiencing the gesture and evoking it gives the writer a chance to elaborate on the unexpected moments.

For instance, during October Piece (2015), I was walking with a microphone dangling at my feet. I could not have anticipated that I would trip or that at one point, the cord would snap with the tension and produce an intense and sharp feedback sound, unsettling the audience. In another work, I accidentally cut my hand when I was transporting a heavy piece of granite with a jagged, unpolished edge. I didn’t realize until I was in a freight elevator with the audience that I was and had been bleeding, leaving smears and marks along the way throughout the building and in the snow that stayed for days after.

There are details that seem pertinent to include in the documentation, that are better expressed in retrospect as opposed to a .jpeg.

MG: But a .jpeg is also experienced retrospectively. Do you mean to say that the written anecdote can account for spontaneity/chance?

BB: Right. A photograph encountered digitally is completely inadequate as documentation for the work I do. I will document the materials and installations I work with, but I hold the written accounts of those who have witnessed something first-hand to a higher regard.

Brit Barton “Granite” (2016)

Brit Barton, Granite (2016)

MG: Individual works of yours involve physical reverberations, accumulation and entanglement; how does this inform your understanding when producing a series of works?

BB: I know that my work, like any other artist’s work, is better negotiated with a historical structure behind it. But, my structure is a little more messy, not as easy to purchase or display. Each work builds on the work preceding it.

MG: Is a work ever finished to you?

BB: Maybe once or twice, but not usually, no. I’m skeptical about finality.

I’m interested in how things turn into drafted versions of themselves.

MG: I couldn’t help but associate your video work “Making Knots” (2016) with Yvonne Rainer’s Hand Movie  (1966). It seemed quite clear that both pieces embrace absurdity, but it felt significant in your video that the absurdity of your film involves the use of string and the introduction of a second hand to play Cat’s Cradle. Adding them into the mix seems to make the film personal in a way that differs from the singularity of Rainer’s hand. No longer a movie about what one does (Hand Movie), but what one does with oneself (your work).

All this to ask: In what ways does your work feel personal? From what part of you is this work conceived?

BB: There is a larger argument to be had over whether one’s work is always inherently personal or whether the viewer automatically projects that it is personal; this question is fundamental to the experience of abstraction and maybe even contemporary art in general. Such is life.

One of the biggest misinterpretations of this work is the assumption that the hands are my own. Some might suppose upon seeing female hands and realizing that I am a female artist, I must’ve been the subject. Does the knowledge that it isn’t me change anything? I’m not sure.*

The Rainer reference comes up a lot, as does choreography and minimalist dance in general. I think that we are told what to do with our bodies every day, sometimes through instruction, or expectation, or through an unconscious sense of obligation. It’s possible I was considering those things as I was making the work.

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 3.16.03 PM

Brit Barton, still from Making Knots (2016)

Max Guy is an artist and curator based in Chicago Il. Max co-hosts Human Eye, an occasional podcast on art and life with Miranda Pfeiffer. He has collaborated on projects such as Szechuan Best, Spiral Cinema, and Rock512Devil in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his M.F.A. from the Department of in Art, Theory and Practice at Northwestern University in 2016.

Brit Barton is an artist and writer. She is the inaugural Artist Fellow at The Arts Club of Chicago and a Post-MFA Fellow at the University of Chicago.

*See art critic Solveig Nelson’s 2016 text, “A ‘spectacle of entrance, exists, and changing coalitions” from the MFA thesis exhibition catalogue, And No One Fish In The Middle ; noting of Making Knots (2016) that the video  “thematizes the ways in which artists have courted proximities to and staged distance from the objects they produce. The mark of the hand signals authorial presence but also departs from fantasies of face-to-face contact.”



Posted January 30, 2017

Event: Mocrep Performs at The Arts Club

Event Date: January 16

Time: 7:15 pm

Location: The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario St.

[Interview by Programs Manager Jenna Lyle]

The dynamic (and enigmatically named) ensemble Mocrep has become an essential part of Chicago’s music and performance community over the past few years. Not to be pinned down to a single discipline, they make a point of collaborating with people who challenge them, from performance artists to stand-up comedians to illustrators. They never shy away from exploring the social, political, and radical in art, and they’ve developed a practice of constantly asking questions about justice. Honored by the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt as one of three invited performer collectives at last year’s prestigious Summer Courses for New Music, Mocrep collaborated with eight artists from around the world to develop new works for performing ensemble without traditional instruments. In the evening on January 16th, they will present an extended version of Plank Rodeo, developed with composer/performer Jenna Lyle.

Read on to learn more about Mocrep.

What IS Mocrep? What does your name mean?

Mocrep is a Chicago-based ensemble dedicated to the performance of radical, 21st century music that engages with contemporary culture – aesthetically, socially, and politically. We specialize in works that not only synthesize music, theater, and performance art, but also productively embrace the differences between these mediums. In this way, we hope to expose and explore new possibilities in performance today.

Comprised of eleven performers, the group’s practice reflects upon the idea of music as a medium, the meaning of performance as a social relationship, and the potential of art as a catalyst for change. Mocrep constantly pushes to address political, social, and cultural questions through performance, and aims to create spaces for audiences to do the same. Collaboration is a central part of this practice, both between composers and performers and across artistic disciplines.

Our name is a word we made up–it means us!


How did your ensemble begin?

The current group of eleven has been working together for about a year now. We met variously through school and through the very active new/experimental music scene in Chicago, but what drew us to each other is a shared interest in performative work and the wish for a collective practice that allows for multiple possibilities, multiple roles, and multiple disciplines. That means a different thing for each of us.

Another thing that draws us together is a shared need for and interest in artistic discourse. We talk about what we do and why we do it a lot, and those conversations are one of the most vital parts of our practice.

What is your practice?

Our practice, in both curation and performance, is one of seeking out and leveling hierarchical musical structures, whether they are between performer and instrument, performer and composer, or performer and audience. Ultimately, we are interested in exploring the most essential part of any performance situation: people. As performers, we are interested in making music about and with our bodies. As curators, we are interested in creating performance situations that help build community and facilitate new social and political possibilities.

In practice, this takes many forms. In the past 3 years we have performed with spaghetti pots, wigs, sandpaper, Barbies, radios, PVC pipes, candy, and western classical instruments. We have pushed the boundaries of our roles as performers, found new ways to work with composers collaboratively, and crossed disciplinary lines to work with visual artists, performance artists, and even a comedian.

We believe that our artistic practice should reflect the world that we want to live in, both in the way that we organize as an ensemble, and in the work that we present. We are constantly seeking to grow our performance community and to create art that we feel is both imperative and otherwise lacking in the Chicago community.

We spend a good deal of energy on our organizational structure. We meet at least once a week to make curatorial and (large) logistical decisions, which we decide on unanimously. Though time consuming, both the process and the outcome of this decision-making process can be extremely rewarding, because final decisions are the result of synergy, rather than a majoritarian or dictatorial system. Part of the point of this structure, for us, is to posit alternative possibilities for political and community organization.


To whom does your practice give a voice?

A huge part of our practice has to do with breaking down the patriarchal norms of contemporary music curation. We curate primarily female, female-identifying and genderqueer composers and collaborating artists, which we see as a concrete way of pushing the Chicago music community to question the ways in which we all propagate normative or oppressive structures through our curatorial and performance practice. We want to push ourselves further in the direction of curatorial diversity in future seasons.

Somewhat more abstractly, our work’s focus on bodies allows for a unique subversive potential. While sound is often a component of what we do, we are also reacting to a musical culture (particularly in the composer-performer model) that treats instrumentalists like instruments; we claim that musical performance is first and foremost a social gathering, predicated on the actions of bodies. To champion our bodies is to champion our own personhood–our humanity–and, by extension the humanity of our audiences.

Another extension of this is, again, our structure as an ensemble. While it may seem odd to make a point of it, our practice gives us a voice. Since all of us are classically trained, we’re used to composition and performance opportunities that come with a strict hierarchical structure. We’re trying to break that down, and create a space for ourselves as artists.

What, for you, are some of the social, political and aesthetic implications of instrumental music performance? How in particular are those implications subverted in other forms of instrumental practice or post-instrumental performance?

Instruments, particularly the Western Classical instruments that we are all trained in, occupy a specific space in the mindset of our culture. They represent the privileging of Western European culture, a specific acceptable artistic lineage, and the cultural importance of higher education—and the capital required for it. Performing on these instruments both implicates us in this lineage and all of its baggage, and propagates the aforementioned musical culture, one that treats instrumentalists as instruments.


Moving beyond work with classical instruments—or performing work with them that is specifically aware of their cultural weight—allows us multiple possibilities for either commenting on, or working outside that lineage. All objects have weight, of course—both the spaghetti pot and the violin—but we’re trying to give ourselves as many possibilities as we can.


Posted January 9, 2017

Holiday Closure

We will reopen to our membership on January 10. The Gallery will be closed until our next exhibition, Ralph Coburn: Random Sequence, on February 16. Happy holidays!

13 400 S. Michigan

Posted December 23, 2016

Photos of the Centennial Birthday Celebration at The Art Institute

Posted December 13, 2016

Event: A Case for Youth Theater–Chicago Youth Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Event Date: December 10

Time: 1:00 pmVersion 3

Location: The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario St.

[interview by Programs Manager Jenna Lyle]

What does it mean to be a young person engaging in theater today?

To whom does theater or spoken word give a voice?

What role does on-stage performance play in contemporary society?

These are a few of the questions I posed to participants involved in Chicago Youth Shakespeare‘s (CYS) upcoming production of Hamlet, and their answers confirmed my suspicions about the way high school-aged artists approach creative work. They understand their relevance to the present moment and take seriously the task of challenging expectations—whether those expectations apply to youth in general or to artists. They think about revolution. And they possess a level of emotional awareness and understanding that I’ve seldom seen in the sagest of my contemporaries. Theirs is an important conversation to amplify, and we at The Arts Club couldn’t be more excited to give that conversation a platform this weekend.

On Saturday, December 10, at 1pm, CYS presents excerpts and discussion focused on their upcoming production, which is a collaboration with teaching artists and student poets from SennArts High School and Louder Than a Bomb.

Three veterans in the field, Lawrence Grimm (Chicago Shakespeare Theater, A Red Orchid Theater, Steppenwolf), Joel Ewing (SennArts, The Yard) and Jess McLeod (Chicago director and teacher with Young Chicago Authors), join CYS Founding Artistic Director Manon Spadaro and students to lead a conversation about youth agency, empowerment, and honoring the authenticity of the youth voice in contemporary progressive theater.

Student actors from CYS will present select scenes and monologues from their abridged cutting of Hamlet, juxtaposed with spoken word poems written especially for this production and performed by student poet collaborators.

Read on to learn more about this team’s process, practice, and inspiration.

What was your first experience in the theater? How did that influence your perception of and interaction with theater following that first experience?

  • My first experience in theatre ever was in the 1st grade. We did a school play about planets and I played a nimbus cloud. I kinda fell in love then and there; from then on I did anything theatre at my school, plays, musicals, all of it. I have forever looked at it as another way of expression, a way to feel free in my craft. [Victor Musoni, Student Poet, Senn Arts High School]
  • From the 4th grade play about grammar to doing Richard III for a school assembly as a Freshman to playing John Proctor in THE CRUCIBLE as a Senior – each was a progressive journey into complexity and dimension and narrative. The more I got the more I wanted. The fact that one could learn about life and history in the midst of having cathartic experiences as an actor playing a character and that these experiences might teach you more about who you are? There was nothing to say no to. I was hooked. [Lawrence Grimm, Actor and Teaching Artist]

 What role does spoken word play in your life? As a performer, as a student, as a creative?

  • Spoken word and theatre give me confidence in everyday life. The presence I have to learn to command on stage is presence I can now command in real life. [Caelan Reeves, CYS Student]
  • Spoken word has only heightened my awareness of the people and experiences around me. It allowed me to build empathy with the most villainous or underrepresented or misunderstood or overlooked before I was fully aware of the power of empathy. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, in Englewood, in a single parent home, I understood very early on that there was a narrative written out for me. My person was an expectation. A mold that neither I, nor the people around me, would…fit into was cast upon us. I wanted desperately to present that counter-narrative to the masses (even if the masses was only myself, in an attempt at reassurance), and spoken word gave me agency. Spoken word invites “the other” to look not only at you but with you; encourages your audience to be with you at a point in time, leveling the playing field and existing as one for at least 3 minutes. To me there’s nothing more beautiful than human relation, seeing as we spend so much time differentiating with no intent to celebrate. [Ireon Roach, Student Poet, Senn Arts High School]

What does theater mean to you?

  • a safe space for shared discovery. [Manon Spadaro, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Youth Shakespeare]

What is your role in the upcoming production of Hamlet, and how has the process of making it effected you?

  • My roles are King Hamlet, Player King, Bernardo, and a Priest. All of these characters have very different levels of authority, so learning how to dial up and dial down confidence and strength in different situations has allowed me to do the same in interactions in my life. [Caelan Reeves, CYS Student]
  • I play Ophelia, and since I’ve started the process, I’ve thought a lot about the role that teenage girls have in their society. I recently read The Crucible in my English class, and I couldn’t help but make the connection between the two stories and how they capture the drastic actions that teenage girls sometimes have to make to get their voices heard. It’s made me think a lot about how we’re constantly being silenced, and it’s made me realize how unique I am to fight against the roles that society has placed upon me. [Jolie Davidson, CYS Student]
  •  In this production I play the role of Hamlet and it’s been an extremely fun but by no means unchallenging experience. Ironically, during this process I’ve become a lot like Hamlet myself: constantly thinking…and thinking…and thinking a little more just for good measure. With a play as masterfully written as Hamlet there’s so much for an actor to discover, and with only two weeks left until opening night I still feel like I’ve barely even scratched the surface. That’s what I love about performing Shakespeare’s work, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it whenever I can. [Freedom Martin, CYS Student]

What do you think theater or spoken word means/does for contemporary society?

  • I think Shakespearean theater in the contemporary society is just as relevant as it was in the Elizabethan society. We still have the same thoughts and feelings as people back then did and that shows something about the timelessness of theater. [Caitlin Morley, CYS Student Assistant Director, Hamlet]
  • Theatre doesn’t always provide the answers to questions, but it asks the most important questions facing society today. Good theatre not only asks those questions but prompts a dialogue surrounding those questions and themes. At its most basic level, theatre makes people think. [Evelyn Reidy, CYS Artistic and Administrative Associate]

To whom does your theater or spoken word practice give a voice?

  • The parts of me that I am not brave enough to reveal in the real world. [Caitlin Morley, CYS Student Assistant Director, Hamlet]

What is most important to you as a theater or spoken word practitioner?

  • Diversity and accessibility have become incredibly important to me. I want any production I’m involved in to reflect the rich diversity of the world around me. For so long, we saw the same kind of people on stage telling the same story: we are at a cultural and political moment where we cannot go along with the status quo. It’s time for all of us to create art that speaks to as many unique human experiences as we can. [Evelyn Reidy, CYS Artistic and Administrative Associate]
  • The ability to represent the human experience authentically and honestly and have it be recognized as such. It is an absolute privilege, always challenging and incredibly rewarding. [Lawrence Grimm]

What does it mean to be a young person in the theater?

  • To be a young person in theatre comes with lots of preconceived notions about ability… that certain things cannot be done by us young people or that we need more time before we’re ready. I think to be a young person is to blow minds and completely shatter the stereotypes of ability…to revolutionize. [Victor Musoni, Student Poet, Senn Arts High School]
  • At least for myself, being a young person in the theater means showing that I have feelings and ideas that are assumed to be reserved for adults. In fact, theater also means expressing feelings and ideas that are specific to the experience of being a young person. We, as young people, have not yet had many outlets to share our ideas or perspectives. We have so much to say, and I can feel that pressure mounting in every teenage production I do. It is a fuel. [Sophia Zinger, CYS Student]
  • Teenagers are so often the center of pop culture. So many movies, books, and songs are about being a young person, and often, they are centered around a stereotyped or romanticized version of youth. The same is true for plays and performance pieces, but theater must be kept honest. To me, it is the most truthful, raw form of art there is, and that means portraying the complexity of teenagers, and finding the humanity and nuance that is abundantly present in young people. I see so many shows in which adults are playing teenagers, or trying desperately to capture the teenage experience, which can get frustrating. To be a young person in theater means continuously seeing others tackling what means the most to you. It means continuously proving yourself time and time again. We are such an important part of theater. We are the characters in your shows. We are the devoted audience members. We are the future. It is crucial to empower young people through the arts. [Anika Waco, CYS Student]

What have you learned in the making of this production?

  • I always discover so much about myself and the world with every Shakespeare production. If acting is the study of human behavior, then there is no better textbook than Shakespeare. [Manon Spadaro]
  • I have learned to dismantle my filter, and trust my instincts. I have learned that, in a healthy context, unapologetic action is never a negative thing. [Sophia Zinger, CYS Student]
Posted December 6, 2016