When the corporate art world is unwelcoming to newcomers, the solution to publicly exhibiting your work is to cultivate a DIY space. A rose-tinted alternative, this route was once an easier pursuit before gentrification wars began firing up and pushing all affordable locations farther from the city. Your only other choice? Opening a gallery in your own apartment.
This is the project roommates Jesse Clark, Parker Bright, Brit Pack and Sam Grossinger have all been tackling for a year, transforming their South Loop Chicago apartment into 4e Gallery, where low-key, curated exhibitions have been regularly created since first opening in April, 2015.
Their latest work, Earth and Nightfall, brings together a lineup of local artists, whose work provides them a sense of safety and changes mundane, everyday materials into mystical objects. When grouped within the same space, this collectively makes for an otherworldly experience, much like being inside a video game.
Featured in 4e’s exhibition are Christina Sweeney, Lydia Friedman, Katie Rapheal, Efrén Arcoiris, Sofia Moreno, Matthew Landry, Kacie Lambert, Taylor Radelia, Alex Fisher and Caleb Yono—gallery manager Pack and Clark, who curated this project, both showcase original work, as well.
We recently caught up up with Earth and Nightfall curator Jesse Clark to learn more about the 4e Gallery exhibition.
Talk me through the origins of 4e Gallery. What are you hoping to accomplish by creating this apartment space?
All the shows here really alter our day-to-day living and a lot of ideas are born out of the different configurations of everyone’s work in the space. 4e is a place where our friends can have the freedom to show work how they want to. It’s important to us that the space hosts event-based programming, as well as art shows. Rough Cut, an event that Brit and Parker curated at 4e was a vintage gay porn screening with performances, go-go dancing and installations. Events like that give people a place to party, while still directing their experience through making a curated atmosphere.
How do you feel it’s a reflection or rejection of Chicago’s art scene?
There is a lot of energy in the Chicago scene right now and we’re just happy to be a part of it. There are so many great apartment spaces that have been hitting a sweet spot lately in-between showing art and doing something closer to a DIY show. Giron Books, Born Nude, Laura, Naomi FineArts and Jacket Contemporary are all good examples. Not restricting the experience of seeing art to something stuffy just helps make the space feel comfortable.
As Earth and Nightfall’s curator, what would you say was the greater concept behind this show?
I wanted to construct a place that was frozen in time, similar to the feeling of being in a video game, but without the danger. The places I find most seductive are ones like the Velvet Room in Atlus’ Persona 4 for PlayStation 2. Here the player can sort through their equipment, create new alchemical combinations of magic and rest before going back into a threatening world. To render this reality, artists were selected whose process provides them with a similar sense of safety. Many of the artists make precious objects that take advantage of craft to make something otherworldly.
It was important that they inhabit all of the senses and potentials of the space, like Brit Pack’s rock speaker that plays music and Kacie Lambert’s turmeric tincture she provided for visitors’ drinks. Additionally, the show is populated by sculptures that act as spiritual surrogate bodies of the artists. The tactile quality of much of the work and the mystical tone of its content creates a space of reflection for the viewer, but also an uncanny divorce from reality provoked through everyday materials.
How does the show’s title reflect this concept?
Earth and Nightfall is about the experience of being on this planet and looking up at the moon.
What were you looking for in artists’ work to suit this show? How does their work communicate with one another?
I was looking for people who trust their intuition. The connections between the artists in the show were so strong, I didn’t have to work hard to make them play in exciting ways off of one another. Lydia Friedman’s knitwear dresses looked ghastly in a way that echoed Sofia Moreno’s haunting floor piece involving a plastic-covered school girl costume. My work, which recreated a scenario from the ABC show Pretty Little Liars, performed a kind of tragic fabulousness also found in Katie Raphael’s fabric banners adorned with opening lines from HBO’s Sex and the City that were located in-between narrow cracks in the gallery walls. Alex Fisher’s tiny bears made of trash and Christina Sweeney’s snowman that was installed on a ledge outside of the gallery window were sensitive little characters that felt like animated companions. The connections are endless and hopefully the works together make an inviting place to explore the possibilities they provide.
How did you approach arranging the works in your space?
I wanted every aspect of the space to be utilized. There is work in the walls, on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, on the floor, outside of the gallery, in water and through sound.
How did you find the artists to include in this show?
Most of the artists are my peers in school. Others like Sofia Moreno and Efren Arcoiris I met through seeing them perform and eventually being curated into group shows with them. Efren Arcoiris works in sculpture and performance. He provided the large, colorful shrine sculpture in the center of the show. His work really gave life to the space and became a focal point for people to gather around. The shrine is interactive and welcomes viewers to touch it, eat the mangos and candy that adorn it and read from the manga that is resting on it. Efren was also present during the opening and gallery hours teaching people origami and making smoothies to enjoy around the shrine. It was really special and gave the show a sense of community while solidifying it as a sacred space for reflection.
How did you involve Isabelle McGuire, the artist behind our crush porn series?
Isabelle performed on the opening night. In her performance, she covered herself in white glue and attempted to blow up a giant balloon with her ankle tied to her foot, all while balancing on 6-inch heels. Beside her were projections of a boy playing a song on a theremin and a live feed of herself in the gallery. The whole time she was falling on her knees, blinded by glue and restrained by her own movements. Every time she would hit the ground you could hear people gasp. The work demands your attention beyond being shocking, though. Her work is crucial because it examines the role of femininity in society without being didactic. It’s an acknowledgement that representations of the body alienate us amidst an endless sea of idealized images and stereotypes yet also provide us routes to imagine our own empowerment.
How does this curatorial effort reflect your own art-making?
Traditionally I’m a new media artist. For the past three years I’ve made mostly video art and software. It’s only recently that I’ve been making objects and all of the artists who contributed to Earth and Nightfall have been a huge inspiration to me in that transition.