Nice Things: Marvin Astorga’s cut-out creations come to No Coast

(courtesy of the artist)

It is a sweltering, beginning-of-April afternoon and the Pilsen arts collective No Coast is caught at a point of transition. The front exhibition and store space is in the process of being converted into a performance venue for the closing event of Tessa Siddle’s show “Hexenhaus.” Despite this, everything is in good order: stacks of prints and publications, T-shirts, and other crafts easily browsed through. There is plenty of light and plenty to look at. Such is the juggling act of No Coast, which evolves smoothly from storefront into studio, workshop, and performance space.

With roots in the world of Chicago printmaking, No Coast’s core group of working artists has toes reaching into different waters, from more fine art-oriented projects, to those more music- or craft-oriented, allowing the collective to straddle and synthesize different niches of Chicago’s sprawling art scene. No Coast’s recently launched series of monthly shows, “Exhibitions and Editions,” has so far reaffirmed their belief, as stated on their website, that “creative practice is a social act.” Each show that goes up in No Coast’s gallery space is accompanied by editioned works which are available for purchase at an accessible rate and is fore-fronted or ended by some kind of performance that diversifies and expands the gallery’s patronage. Marvin Astorga’s “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” which opens April 9, promises to follow suit.

The show will consist of collage and mixed media work, presenting quotations from the artist’s extensive collection of printed ephemera. Astorga, who is based in Pilsen and is also a musician and administrator at the Old Town School of Folk Music, strikes a balance between found and constructed images. Faces, objects, and bodies composed of magazine cutouts are combined to form new creatures. Densely layered compositions of people cut out of magazines and periodicals become impromptu and mangled crowds and totems. In a few pieces, the organizational schemes seem to map out constellations of relationships, hierarchies, and idols. Frequently in Astorga’s collages, animal heads appear on top of human costumes, adorn people’s skin, or sit opposite human heads, as if in conversation. There is an element of playfulness in Astorga’s iconography, as well as an obscure sense of the religious. As Young Joon Kwak, one of No Coast’s group of six core artists, explains, Astorga’s work reveals a “complicit and contingent” relationship between the mass-availability of image and consumer culture and the medium of collage. In this sense, Astorga’s work is founded in the fundamental appeal of the medium; his evident interest in collecting reflects this.

In addition to a series of Astorga’s collages and collections, the show will also feature large-scale digital prints, and an elaborate mandala installation that will extend the motifs and process found in the collages into other media. A zine printed by the artist in a small edition will also be available for sale, and a closing performance on Friday, May 7 will feature the performance group Acephalous, a Chicago-based troupe who will offer “a playful poke at death and the spirit world through the tragicomic unfoldings of a live radio drama.” The events bookending “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” much like the show’s printed works, promises to present an eclectic and intriguing experience.
No Coast Collective, 1500 W. 17th St. April 9—May 7, opening reception Friday, April 9, 6-9pm, closing reception and performance Friday, May 7, 5-7pm. (312)850-2338.