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Interview Thu Jul 24 2014
Pitchfork Music Festival is known for its eccentric, acclaimed and even avant-garde performances of high musical caliber, and for the attendees that create a show of their own with diverse fashion statements and individualistic notions. Another component to this weekend's three-day phantasmagoria was that of exquisite art, in the form of an installation known as the Geometric Village, curated by Johalla Projects and dreamed up by visionary artists Chad Kouri and Heather Gabel.
Photo by Zachary James Johnston
As I stepped up to the Geometric Village on Saturday afternoon, I noticed sunlight streaming through the trees ahead of me, and falling upon the two upright pyramids in a simply lovely way. Each one allowed ample space for you to walk under it and absorb the messages seeded inside its carefully formed tunnel, one with skillfully designed words, and one with a collage of photographs, one of a skull, the other of a statue, and more. Both portions of the installation were vastly different, but in many ways, linked in commonalities. I noticed concertgoers interacting with the art pieces: some shuffling by quickly, others looking up at the peak and smiling, and a group sitting underneath, resting in a peaceful place. I oriented myself with the artwork, and then was lucky enough to have a chance to speak with curator Anna Cerniglia, and artists Chad and Heather, about the wistful yet introspective work they have been able to create at Pitchfork Music Festival this past weekend.
Tell me about how your experience has been so far.
Anna Cerniglia: I've been here since Tuesday, so I've worked directly with Pitchfork, I've done this before with them. It was two years ago and a bit bigger, so that was really fun. So when we approached it again this year, it was more of a collaboration between me, Pitchfork, and Daniel Schor from AJ Capital, who is our sponsor. And so this year was a little different because I didn't want to just curate it, I wanted it to be a partnership. So we spent a lot of time together, then Daniel got Thompson Hotel to be our main funding. They already have a lot of artwork in the hotel; they buy a lot of art, and have a lot of art books, it's very artistic. It's really great to have a partner where I believe in their mission and they believe in our mission. So it kind of started like that and I kept looking for artists and talking to different people, and I just worked at the Soho House Saturday night so I had a Chicago producer for that, and as this was getting formulated I was working these insane hours with them, so it was like such a crazy experience. I kept contacting them and asking what they wanted to do, and Heather would say, "I want to do a pyramid," and Chad said "I want to do a square." We met with a carpenter and he was said "a square's not safe," it's about weather, so literally it was a six-hour meeting between designer and the carpenter where we just sat and molded these shapes together. I would forward it to them [Heather and Chad], and finally they both said yes. Everybody's like, what's your intent? We literally just sat and folded our ideas together organically.
Photo by Zachary James Johnston
Did you guys pick this exact point? Did you have in your mind, "I want to put this art installation right here?"
AC: No, we don't choose that. It is chosen by their production, her name is Kirsten. She runs all the production, it's amazing, and so we were assigned this area after we submitted all of our designs and measurements and everything. So this has been the area that they usually have as more of a hangout area, so it just fit. We're really happy to be next to Basecamp.
It looks really great, I just got back here today and got my bearings, but I noticed a lot of people sitting under it, and it's more experiential than cold, it's very warm and inviting and people are drawn to it. Was that your intent?
AC: That's cool. Well, after we made that piece two years ago that was so big and looming, which I really loved, we did want it to be a place where people could go and talk and hang out and be a part of it. Heather and I did a project a few months ago in New York with blue moon and she used a lot of triangles. We really wanted to incorporate this kind of central idea she's been having with triangles and pyramids. Her dad's from Egypt, and she's half Egyptian, so there's a lot of things going into it with her working on these shapes for the past year. It was some sort of geometric concept where shapes do weird things, yet it's very simple.
It's very simple, but it speaks a lot, also. The two styles are very different. Obviously there are prints and typography. What was the intention with the two different artists?
AC: I think they were trying to be as different as they could possibly be but they both use the same medium, which is collage. They're very similar and different at the same time, where, for example, their process could be similar but then their way of conveying the way that they make work and their messages, their intents, are very different. even though their process is the same. We just wanted very white and black, in this setting you have to be that rigid with your ideas. We had to try to also understand where we were working.
How is this different than other works you're used to curating frequently? Was it more of a challenge because it's at a festival?
AC: This is our fifth time at a festival, weirdly enough. We also have worked in alleys, the space in New York was a double archway, which was insane and gigantic. Every single time we're in a new space that doesn't normally have artwork, it's always a challenge. And I learn every time. I think it's really fun and the challenge is really fun to add these pieces to these places they're not supposed to be. So yeah Pitchfork, then Lollapalooza, and doing a festival in Texas.
Photo by Zachary James Johnston
Are you planning to do Lollapalooza again this year?
AC: We are doing Lollapalooza, we're doing the murals for Lollapalooza. We're only doing the Perry's Stage. We're more contained this year. In the future, we have a lot of projects coming up this fall. We have a really great program at the gallery. We're also working to do this after-party after Expo.
I next got to speak with Chad and Heather about their inspiration, time with Johalla, and future projects on the horizon.
Photo by Zachary James Johnston
Where did your inspiration come from, because I just oriented myself with this and I really like it, it's just really cozy and I'm noticing that most people are using it as a way to experience the festival and kind of get out of the hustle and bustle, and there were people sitting underneath, and it was very warm and drawing people in.
Chad Kouri: I feel like my main inspiration was the time limit. We came down pretty tight knowing where we'd be, how much of a budget we had in order to pull something off. We had another group called Threefold who did the structures, so we came in after. Heather and I are constantly working on a body of work individually so considering what we've done in the past and beyond that, knowing that we have these three-dimensional structures we can work with is kind of a fun, new challenge. You don't work in three dimension often right?
Heather Gabel: No, I don't. I usually just work two-dimensionally.
What has that experience been like?
HG: I mean we've made two dimensional-things and put them inside of three dimensional spaces, and I think we just adapted what we do to be digestible for a festival-goer. And the spaces I feel like, so why the actual A-frame constructions are there, and why the structures are the way that they are, is so people can experience them and literally walk through them and have it be just a little reprieve from the day and just a place to have a minute and look at something instead of listening to something. People are hanging out in them.
Photo by Zachary James Johnston
CK: I saw someone reading a book in there!
HG: I looked over there and I was like, mission accomplished!
Was that your intention? It's interesting seeing the different ways that people respond to it and interact with it.
HG: I'm glad that people feel comfortable in there and that it's somewhere that people want to be.
They're both very different, personality-wise - obviously one is typography and the other is abstract prints, what was your thought process in making those so different? Are they supposed to flow together? Did one of you design one and one designed the other?
CK: Each of us did one structure. We've known each other's work for a while working through Johalla, and we both work in collage a lot. So it's nice that we both work with and are familiar with the same medium, but our work aesthetic is drastically different, so it's a really good balance. Aesthetically if one person doesn't like one of them, they'll probably like the other. We cover all bases.
HG: We're the ends of the visual spectrum. I love your [Chad's] work, I think they go really well together, because and in spite of the fact that they're so different.
Who made which?
I'm feeling the typography is coming from you [Chad]. Have you both done festival art before or is this your first music fest?
CK: This is my first.
HG: This is my first as well. I've done public things with Johalla before but never at a festival.
CK: I stay pretty safe I feel like, I do multiples in print-making pretty often. I have a lot of friends over in Flatstock selling prints so I knew that I was comfortable with making prints. So I used that and I was confident in that, and knowing where it was going to be was going to be secondary. The whole idea and the text and the posters were mine. It's about commemorating the weekend and Chicago summers in general. I feel like whenever I travel anywhere else, anyone who has been here or used to live here will always say they miss Chicago summers. Like in LA, it's really nice there but no one really goes to the park a lot, and they ask, "you just sit in a park?" Why wouldn't you?
HG: There's something magical about it. You walk down the street and think I can't believe this is the same tree. That's interesting because my pieces are about time passing and rebirths, and so it's really tied into that then, the idea of celebrating a point in time and a season.
CK: Again, it's funny that it's very similar inspiration, but the outcome is drastically different.
And then for you [Heather], for the sequence of photos, what's the thought process?
HG: Those pieces are these visual timelines, non-linear timelines, and that seemed to complete a cycle for me. For the first piece there's a skull, so it's the idea of mortality, and then you go to a statue, and it's history, and shadows and light changing. It completes a cycle for me.
What are your future plans in Chicago? Are you doing more projects like this or elsewhere?
HG: Johalla's doing this warehouse party, I'm doing some neon pieces for that; it's in the West Loop and that's pretty exciting. That's next month.
CK: I'm doing a solo show at the Johalla space in October. It's my first one in Chicago in five years. I was showing a little bit in New York and LA for a little while and had a couple other opportunities to show in Chicago and it just didn't feel like the right spaces. So it'll be a nice unveil to a lot of the new stuff I've been working on.
Have you both felt really satisfied with how this has turned out and the people that have been interacting with it?
CK: I've been really happy with it. Even down to the point of the people who are with Johalla, and to hang out with Heather all weekend. All of us work so much, so it's nice to have an opportunity to make something together and be together for a day or two. Typically it's socializing for three minutes at an art opening and then we go back into the cave of making stuff. It's nice to be a little more chill. It's just a lot of fun to be here.
HG: You never get time to reflect on what you did, and you're always on to the next thing, so this is really cool. It's a really great success. It's bridging that gap nicely where it's functioning as public art, and people are interacting with something they wouldn't normally interact with and they are getting something different to think about.
The Geometric Village, curated by Johalla Projects with support from the Thompson Hotel group and Tan & Loose Press, was created as three-dimensional house structures for festival-goers to interact with during Pitchfork Music Festival. Johalla Projects, established in 2009 by Anna Cerniglia, has encouraged collaborative expression of art by developing exhibitions and public art space for emerging and breakthrough artists. Their next venture will be showcased at Lollapalooza; be sure to stop by to experience their interpretation of a festival's visionary public art showcase.