The State of the Arts: Interviews

Rine Boyer
Rine Boyer, a Buffalo-born artist, moved to Bridgeport three years ago to develop her work, settling last year into a studio at the Zhou B. Center. Her most recent work, “The Animal Series,” explores the tacit messages of body language through colorful ink drawings that are simple in line and form, yet complex in their exploration of human communication. This year she has had solo exhibitions at ARC Gallery and Old Town Art Center.
It’s 6:30 on a Friday night and Boyer is showing me around her small backroom studio at the Zhou B. Art Center. We sit in folding chairs alongside a small table. Boyer’s latest collection of work surrounds us, displayed neatly on the walls of the small studio. In the absence of the expected disarray of paints, brushes, and canvases, the space is organized and cozy, more like a living room than a formal studio. One drawing, entitled “Todd” depicts a man looking downward, twiddling his thumbs with one foot angled inward. He is covered with tiny pink octopi. “Gabrielle” sports Wayfarers, and a layer of cartoon whales. The images are humorous, thoughtful, and refreshingly unpretentious.

Chicago Weekly: Was there a moment when you knew you were an artist?
Rine Boyer: (laughs) There was actually a moment. When I was growing up people were quick to say I was going to be an artist before I was ready to be one. But I just came out of class one day, sat down and made a painting. I keep it in my studio to ward off bad luck. But yes. I actually sat down and said, “I am going to try to be an artist.”
CW: What drew you to Chicago?
RB: I picked Chicago because I thought it would have interesting art. I felt like in New York everything was a big mass moving the same way. Chicago had more of a culture of the individual. I read about the different neighborhoods and how they stood on their own. I thought I could do whatever I wanted, which is a little bit outside of what everyone else is doing.
CW: How did you wind up on the South Side of Chicago in particular?
RB: The south side was by happenstance. I was looking to settle at a room with a studio and found a place on Craigslist and really fell in love with Bridgeport. It wasn’t trying to be something–people were just sort of living, which I like.
CW: How do you feel about the South Side’s art scene?
RB: I feel like the people who come to Bridgeport are real art lovers. I have had shows, especially in Wicker Park, which is great, but I feel like people there are there more for the spectacle. The people who come to the studio event here at the Zhou center–Even if they don’t have an art education, I feel like the people from Bridgeport are more interested in the art and talking to you, rather than being part of the “scene.”
CW: Can you tell me about the images of people in your work?
RB: This is my take on hipster culture. I took images from people in show spaces, dive bars, things like that, and played around with animals because I see that imagery in a lot of hipster culture. I didn’t now what to make of it so I thought I would just play with it and let the image work itself out. Hipster culture is something that really fascinates me. I’m really interested in the surface and how that describes larger things that are happening in people’s heads. I feel like hipster culture is a surface thing. I felt that it has something to do with us and everyone who is participating right now.
CW: I notice you use a lot of Animal imagery. Is there a special significance to it?
RB: I’m trying to leave the significance of the image to the viewer. Culturally, is this a yearning for a simpler time when we had animals and were closer to nature? Or is this a flight of fashion? The little messages we convey through our actions, that’s one of the things I am most interested in. The shapes on the surface indicate that you have to dig deeper into this person and you just can’t look at the surface. It calls into question your perception of this person. Is this someone you have met before?
CW: So is the second layer the layer of real personality?
RB: I try to think of it as my take of how I am thinking of this person. I like to be at a place where the viewer can either agree or disagree. This art tries to make everyone aware we are always having this conversation when we meet people. We are always trying to understand what the other person is about. (Anna Fixsen)

Hamza Walker
Hamza Walker is Director of Education and Associate Curator for the Renaissance Society, a noncollecting museum of contemporary art located on the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus. He also teaches at the School of the Art Institute. Prior to his work at the Renaissance Society, Walker was the Public Art Coordinator for the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs. He graduated with a degree in art history from the University of Chicago in 1988.
Chicago Weekly: What is the Renaissance Society’s relationship to its local, immediate audience?
Hamza Walker: We have a very strong, deep commitment to the immediate community… It’s a place to ask questions and to be free to do that. So, it isn’t “We’re going to do what our immediate local audience wants to see.” That’s not how it works. If anything, we want our local community to say, “Do something that I haven’t seen before.”
CW: How does being on the south side of Chicago affect the Renaissance Society?
HW: Geographically we’re on the south side, but that isn’t important. The real thing is being in Hyde Park, and being at the University of Chicago. More important, we’re not even in Hyde Park. We’re in Cobb Hall. Knowing that we are not a street-level operation and that we can take the kinds of risks to do things that nobody has ever heard of… well, that’s the strength of being in an obscure location.
CW: How did the education you received from the University of Chicago influence your career path?
HW: Benjamin Buchloh [Harvard professor, and editor of the influential modern art journal October] was a visiting professor here for a quarter and he gave a series of great lectures, and because of those, I wanted to do contemporary [art]… As far as the [University’s visual arts] department, the Weimar Republic was the last station on the train. Past the twenties, thirties, you had to get out and walk the rest of the way. But wanting to do contemporary, I had actually received a relatively conservative training — in terms of looking at images and giving them some kind of context — there was a kind of a disconnect between that and arriving on the scene at a moment when theory was quite prevalent.
CW: How did you address that disconnect? How did you study the contemporary arts scene outside of the University?
HW: Getting to know artists was the way to learn about contemporary art, more so than still having a relatively removed relationship to artists. Having a relationship to art is one thing. Having a relationship with artists is a different thing. To know, to have a sensitivity, and to come to an understanding about contemporary work that way… I want to know about Joe and Suzy from around the way. (Temple Shipley)

Dan Peterman
Dan Peterman is a conceptual artist and the co-manager of Woodlawn’s Experimental Station.
Chicago Weekly: You graduated from the UofC with a MFA in 1986. Why did you stay on the South Side instead of moving to another part of the city?
Dan Peterman: For me, it was the unusual history that the South Side had in relation to the arts–particularly the South Side’s network of urban ecology, ecological activism and recycling, which have been connected to my work in a lot of ways over the years. I was interested in various processes within the city, not specifically within the art community and not necessarily focused on cultural institutions.
CW: Can you tell me about the history of the Experimental Station?
DP: The Experimental Station was built on footing established by the Resource Center, which has been an environmental education organization since the early 70s. The building is a combination of small, artist-run cultural enterprises and it builds on local aspects of the South Side. Essentially, the Experimental Station came out of the concepts of recovery of materials, ecology, and the layering of ideas.
CW: How did you become involved with the Station?
DP: Part of it came out of my involvement with artist-run spaces like the Randolph Street galleries; I had some regular involvement with those types of galleries in grad school, but I came up against a lot of politics. I wondered how small, adaptable cultural projects find their place in the city. The Experimental Station was a combination of that artist-run ethos and a network of other things: politics, materials, sites, ideas of urban ecology–a lot of ideas came together.
CW: If you had to describe the Experimental Station in a single sentence, what would it be?
DP: The Experimental Station has evolved and it continues to evolve. Discussion of what it is depends on when you’re talking about it; prior to the 90s [when the station burned down], it was different from what it is now. It is generally an incubator of small-scale projects that move freely between culture and the arts, but also look at the concept of small enterprise more broadly and recognize the potential positive impact that small enterprises can have on a neighborhood.
CW: But you don’t characterize the Experimental Station as a work of art in itself?
DP: There are aspects of dialogue surrounding the Experimental Station that relate closely to what I do as an artist, but I also recognize that for projects to be healthy they have to go in their own directions. I don’t want to burden or over-determine an activity as an art project–this label opens up preconceived ideas of how people read something. I think that labeling something as art can also become a way of explaining projects too easily or of brushing off the challenges that some of the things we do here represent. The idea of encountering what the Experimental Station is and how its enterprises weave together–from the bike shop to the journalism project to the garden–I want that to stay complex for people. I’d rather have people approach the entire endeavor in a variety of different ways–as small models of local economies, production and sustainability.
CW: I read that you are interested in the “nature of border institutions.” Do you think that the Experimental Station remains a border institution today?
DP: I think that it does, but at the same time a lot of borders around it have been redefined or are in the process of being redefined. There are shifts in what the building represents now compared to what it may have represented in the 90s. Before, the process of gentrification was playing out intensely around it, but with the relative slowing down of intense gentrification, we have the opportunity to redefine what we’re doing and what it means to be here pursuing long-term alternatives (even though ‘alternatives’ is a relative term–alternatives to what? This means different things at different times). We try to keep a long-term commitment to the kinds of programs that we’ve been doing but the perception of those programs continues to change. (Anna Alekseyeva)

travis (uncapitalized, no last name) has been a fixture of the South Side arts scene since he moved to the area ten years ago. A Mississippi native of black and Native American heritage, he is a visual artist, the front man of cult noise-rock group Ono, and a computer technician at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall.
Chicago Weekly: Do you see any artists or galleries on the South Side that you either admire or you think have been important forces in shaping an arts community in the area?
travis: Oh yes. The reality, though, is that most of them are white. There’s a woman, Rebecca Zorach, here at the University of Chicago. The woman is God. She goes places on the South Side that black folks won’t go, and is instrumental in looking at art, not only from an “outside” perspective, but also as an insider. She has an appreciation for the reality that all art is political. And that I have deep respect for.
“Art for art’s sake” is not now, nor has it ever been, a value in the black community. But we are at a great, great point in history. We can ask, what does it mean to have black art? To be a black artist? To look at black art and to have a sense of what it means? How do you read a black work if you are not black? Rebecca could probably answer that better than most black curators could. I’m not suggesting that you have to be black by any means, but there’s a black sensibility that, as Americans, we easily overlook or have no real reason to look for. But it is there.
Another part of that is that there are old, old, black people who are dying rapidly, but who have a lot to say. Once I actually did art on my lawn, on the street in front of my house. And these old black woman just sat down in the street with me, and we were creating work out of soil, and paint, mixing soil with paint and stones. And these women had things to say. I go to the black cemeteries and I talk to the people who are black gravediggers, and these people have stories, they have unimaginable tales about their relationships to their children; their values are very different. Well, those things also eventually, or should, fall into art. Writing is a part of that, and storytelling is part of art.
CW: I’d be interested to hear what you think about Theaster Gates, who is doing all this work that he posits as being very specific to the black community, but at the same time is being embraced by basically a white museum audience.
t: Theaster Gates is wonderful. He and I put on a show at the South Side Community Arts Center last year. And last summer–thanks to Rebecca Zorach, who brought us together, by the way–I went to his house and helped build teepees. Teepees! And some people got so excited, they had the police take them down because “homeless people might move in.” Imagine that! We might create an art that might be useful! And it was Theaster Gates who brought that to bear. I love the man’s work.
CW: You talk about creating art that you think has value and that you find important. Do you make those valuations as a person, as a black man, as an artist working in a community–where does that value come from?
t: Someday I’m going to be old and I’m going to either have to die or enjoy what I’m doing. I think that old people should never be bored. I often tell my friends, “I am too old to be bored.” And that to me has everything to do with my approach to art. It has to be something that is of value to me that makes me want to do it continuously. That’s my response. I put on my art shows, in which I put on my art. And there are people who are willing to indulge that and play with me. (Clare Fentress)

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