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The cat IS the hat

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cathatIf you were at the West Loop gallery openings on Sept. 11, you may have noticed a girl walking around with a dead cat on her head. As it turns out, the girl is an artist, an MFA student at UIC, and her name is Rebecca Beachy. The cat hat is one of her new pieces. I paid her a studio visit last week, and we talked about her work.

Did you know that if you google “West Loop gallery openings,” one of the first things that comes up is Alicia Eler’s post on Chicago Now about you and your taxidermied cat hat?

Yeah, I saw that but I didn’t know that it comes up when you google the art openings.

Yep. You were at number three the first time I checked it but today you’ve moved up to the top. And your hat was also mentioned in an article on Art Talk Chicago about the openings. So I think it was a hit. How did you come up with the idea to make the hat?

Most of my art was already concerned with material and I started thinking about the mythology of cats. I have been thinking about puns. You know, the cat in the hat. The cheshire cat. And then the LOLcat website which is such an obsession of people in our generation. So I thought it would be interesting to re-purpose the cat body to make connections between the body and the image and the mythology of the cat. The cat hat was my first project along those lines. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kelly Reaves

October 29, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Robyn O’Neil @ Tony Wight Gallery

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(This was originally published on 10/08/09 on Gapers Block.)

Tony Wight Gallery is very quiet right now, like the stark silence after a tornado passes through, but the scene is much less cluttered.  In the front room, Robyn O’Neil’s giant graphite drawings hang on the walls, floating in clean, white frames, with plenty of breathing room between them. They depict post-apocalyptic scenes, which, without a familiarity with her previous work, might just look like textural investigations of hair and water.  In the back room, her small drawings continue the same style and theme, but more intimately, and an upside-down ship and a cluster of pyramids are added to the mix.

O’Neil’s previous work, part of a saga which was executed over the past eight years, features wintery landscapes and seascapes.  Dramatic and drably unwelcoming, the scenes are usually populated by groups of little men in matching sweatsuits.  In the early work, the men congregate together, enjoying each other’s company over marshmallows, hugs, and calisthenics, oblivious to the storm clouds looming overhead.  In the later work, they struggle to stay alive, hanging from ropes and rafts.  When there aren’t little men, there are usually horses or birds, often dead or dying themselves, but always at least an allusion to a landscape.  The work is reminiscent of Bruegel and Darger, but not as literal as either.  It does not follow a clean narrative.  Instead, it creates a mood. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kelly Reaves

October 25, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Nauman’s “Clown Torture”

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2620335218_fd00c56e75One of the wonderful things about installations with sound is that they call to you from across the gallery.  They demand your attention.  In the Art Institute’s new modern wing, manic screams from Bruce Nauman’s “Clown Torture” beckon tourists and art students away from whichever minimalist painting they may be contemplating, toward a dark room.  If they are brave enough to enter, they find themselves in the midst of a neurotic carnival of sight and sound.

 Two stacks of monitors sit against the far wall and large projections are on the walls on either side.  One of the monitors is upside-down, another on its side, giving a disorienting, funhouse feeling.  In one, a clown dances around.  In another, which is on a tight loop, he walks into a room, shrieking when a bucket of water is dumped on his head upon opening the door. The other two videos show clowns trying balance objects – goldfish bowls and more buckets of water – with little success.  In the projection on the right, he spouts off an elliptical story, “Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence.  Pete fell off.  Who was left? Repeat.”  He repeats the story with various moods and facial expressions, as if trying to make the story end by telling it in a different voice.  The projection on the opposite wall voyeuristically and comparatively placidly shows the clown sitting on a toilet, reading a newspaper, as if seen through the lens of a surveillance camera. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kelly Reaves

October 25, 2009 at 10:36 pm

You Can't Please Everyone: The Dubious Relationship between Logan Square and it's Bohemian Inhabitants

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(Please note: this is rather long, props still need to be given and links need to be made.  I will make sure to do so ASAP… I just needed to get it up here before it’s totally outdated.)

I love living in Logan Square.  I love the tree-lined streets and the elote carts, with their awkward, honking horns. I love the lively Quince años parties in people’s yards in the summer.  I love the candy that’s left over after the piñatas have been broken and the kids have gotten sick from sugar.

 Most of all, I love that I can afford to have a bedroom, a painting studio, and an office.  My boyfriend has a bike shop and a wood shop.  My dog has his own bedroom.  I have more than enough space and I only have to travel an extra mile out of my way to get it.

 Often, though, my enjoyment is soured by subtle reminders that I am not entirely welcome here.   To some of my neighbors, I am a blonde-haired harbinger of doom and my freshly renovated apartment with its’ granite countertops and hardwood floors is the lair in which I conspire my fascist agenda.  Or something like that. 

 Although most of Logan Square has already been gentrified, the West end, where I live, is just beginning to turn.  And so somehow, although this is my home too and I only want what’s best, my being here is apparently an open invitation for self-involved yuppies and money-hungry developers to come suck the life out of the neighborhood. I realize that some of my queasiness about gentrification can probably just be chalked up to white guilt, but gentrification is a real and hotly debated issue and discussions about it are not only valid but important, so I will forge on. Read the rest of this entry »

Lets Make Lots of Money

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The Hideout during election week

The Hideout

(This is a story I wrote last April for my in-depth reporting class.  It’s about the music scene in Chicago and the controversial Event Promoters Ordinance which has been tossed around for a few years…)

Last weekend I overheard a conversation in the smoking tent at the bar I work at.  A group of regulars were talking about forming a band.  The most enthusiastic of them, a well-groomed, twenty-something blonde guy, suddenly yelled out in a fit of passion: “Chicago has an incredible music scene that just isn’t happening!”

This got me thinking.  Back in 2006, I spent six months traveling around the UK and Europe.  During my trip, I spent a good deal of my time seeking out good local music.  I was generally disappointed by what I didn’t find.  Although I did see some great bands in London and Liverpool, I found a lot of the music mediocre, unoriginal, and drab.  England and Ireland seemed to be tripping over themselves musically and Europe was just way too into techno for my tastes.  I finished my trip with an invigorated appreciation of Chicago. 

Often, when I tell people I think Chicago is the best music city I’ve been to, they are surprised.  Most people, especially people who don’t live in Chicago, have no idea what’s going on here musically.  And, after minimal Internet research, I understand why.  To say that Chicago has an amazing music scene might not be entirely accurate. Chicago has an amazing UNDERGROUND music scene.  And if you aren’t already part of it, it can be difficult to access. The Chicago music scene has a ton of potential, but is underrated and often ignored.

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Dormant Art: an Interview with Rob Ray of Deadtech (3321 W. Fullerton)

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Rob Ray

Rob Ray

Rob Ray was the proprietor and curator of Deadtech, a defunct Logan Square artspace that existed from 1998-2008.  Deadtech was a venue for unconventional, electromechanical art and a community for artists interested in exploring the dichotomy between man and machine.   Ray is currently working on his MFA at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

Kelly Reaves: What was Deadtech’s mission?

Rob Ray: To be a center for art and technology and an assistant to technology-centric artists in the best way we knew how. This tended to manifest itself in the putting on shows, providing technical assistance, and loaning equipment. We also hosted various regular meetings such as the Chicago Dorkbot and the chicago_pd group.  Our mission changed in the mid 2000s as new-media became a term very similar to “alternative” in that while it might have been new at the time, it became quite common.  So, I had to think about how Deadtech could differentiate itself from more established, better funded, and more highly recognized commercial and institutional places.  It used to be common for somebody to look at you totally sideways when you said you wanted to hang a projector in their space. It is now a common thing to see.  We took a fresh look at our assets and realized the biggest one we had was time.  A commercial space or somewhere like the Cultural Center never has time, and tech-based art is a PAIN to suss-out and painful to install. So we could work with artists that really wanted to do almost a residency-type install, or try something new in the actual space. Read the rest of this entry »

Renaissance Man: and interview with Billy Helmkamp of The Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee)

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photo courtesy of Time Out Chicago

photo courtesy of Time Out Chicago

On a snowy Wenesday night mid February I had the pleasure of speaking with Billy Helmkamp, co-owner of The Whistler, a new gallery, music venue, and bar in Logan Square.  He made me a Long-Faced Dove, a refreshing, pale pink tequila and ginger beer cocktail, and answered my questions about the new space.

Kelly Reaves: When did you open up here?

Billy Helmkamp:  We opened on September 26, 2008.

KR:  What inspired you to open?

BH:  The other owner, Rob Brenner, bought this building about three and a half years ago.  We initially wanted to make it an all-ages music venue and workspace so we could be a space for our friends who do silk-screening and make t-shirts.  The idea behind it went through some variations.  At first, we wanted to do twenty things with the space and we widdled it down to music and an art gallery and there were some other arts related events thrown in like readings series and theatres coming in.  We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do with the building and figured it out over the course of six months to a year. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kelly Reaves

March 19, 2009 at 11:41 pm