4223 W Lake Street / +13129129601 / addsdonna.com
Sun 1pm to 4pm
Interview by Aya Nakamura, December 2012
I sat down with Jesus Gonzalez Flores and Justin Jacobson to talk about AD’s inception, its mission and some of the shows it has had so far. The discussion revolved around AD’s attempts to constantly question and challenge assumptions about how an art space is run. These efforts have given its members the freedom to act as they see fit in any given situation and this has allowed them to make some interesting decisions. As Gonzalez Flores and Jacobson explain it, making decisions like expanding AD’s membership and collectivizing its endeavors ultimately help them to grow as artists, curators and participants and cultivates a free and productive space for the exchange of ideas.
Aya Nakamura: When was Adds Donna founded and by whom? Who are its permanent members now?
Jesus Gonzalez Flores: The first show was in summer of 2010 with Edmund Chia’s first opening show, but we say the gallery was founded when we moved into the studio space, which was the year before. The original founders were Justin, myself, and Xavier. From there, Jerome was added on as a Donna, and then Kaylee. Every year we add another Donna, so after Kaylee it was Holly, and after Holly…the most recent addition has been Alexandro. He’s a recent graduate from UIC and he was an intern last year so we talked about it and invited him to join us this year. Xav is in Cooperstown and he’s pretty MIA most of the time but he still contributes…so it’s seven in all.
AN: Where’s Cooperstown?
JGF: It’s in upstate NY. It’s 2~3 hours north of the city.
AN: What’s he doing there?
JGF: He has intentions of creating an Adds residency so he bought property in Cooperstown. He started from nothing, building a live-in space…
Justin Jacobson: Kind of like an auxiliary studio where somebody can go and make work, stay for free, and then we’d show them or at least document their experience.
JGF: Xav’s always been 2 or 3 years ahead of the conversation and we’ve talked about this since the first season, having a central space for shows in Chicago but also setting up satellite spots. He’s moved for that reason and there are still conversations around that—if someone’s from OH he/she can do something in OH, and I’m from the south so I can do something there eventually.
AN: Does AD have a mission statement?
JJ: Our mission statement could be summed up with “bringing to Chicago what we feel like Chicago is lacking.” We’re all artists, so right off the bat we’re not going to be thinking about it as a commercial space. Running a commercial space can affect the content immediately, like how do we stay viable and what do we show in order to stay afloat? Instead, we want to have conversations and mine talent that we think is worth mining and go from there. It’s important to not be pigeonholed into any one thing—we’re not a painting gallery, we’re not a conceptual art gallery…
JGF: Our principle from day one has been not necessarily challenging, but questioning the role of the alternative space, the artist-run space, curators and artists…for example, we’ve curated several shows here but we’ve never shown our own work. We’ve also handed off shows to curators that want to curate, so our role always fluctuates. We have study groups, and every year we’ve had shows at other venues as a single entity/ collective. The first one was in Portland, the second one was at Manifest, and we’re going to have one next year in Nashville.
AN: Do you display your own work at these events, or do you show other artists?
JJ: We show AD as an artist. Not as a collective of artists but as an artist with a singular identity.
AN: Ha! That’s interesting. What kind of work ends up in those shows?
JGF: It’s very similar to curating a show. It’s always around a conversation…we brainstorm an idea and then we start arranging and discussing what to put in. As artists, we all have our biased aesthetics so we involve them and that’s just natural, but then we try to challenge them to form this identity/entity that is AD…but we never list our names.
JJ: I think that’s the most challenging thing to do as a collective because you are subverting your artistic identity. Artists generally want authorship, especially if they think that what they’re making is good. You want to assert yourself onto it (the art object) but for an AD show, you have to give up that assertion and let it flow into the work of somebody else. And by doing that, by blurring the edges of your work and theirs, you then allow it to become one thing instead of multiple things in one show.
AN: I see. Is there any friction within the group?
JGF: We do a good job as a group. We’re all artists and we all have day jobs. Some of us are married and we’re all busy with other things…I think last year was telling. We just alternated—2 people would take the lead with things. We’re respectful toward whoever’s in the lead, and then when there’s a new person that comes into the group we give them a test run. We throw them into it to see what they can do. There is some friction here and there but we know each other well enough and we know each other’s practices and ways of thinking well enough that that’s just understood…it’s part of the conversation and it’s something that we all enjoy, really.
AN: I want to go back to something you said earlier about innovating the way you ran an alternative art space. Can you give examples of decisions you’ve made?
JGF: First off, we set ourselves up for failure. By that I mean we want to fail through experimentation. Every time we have a show we want a loose screw in there and take risks. Why not? During the show we had last fall…all that fall was one group show and we had multiple receptions for it. And at each reception the show shifted according to the wishes of the artist and the art object.
JJ: Some pieces were totally removed…there were only two pieces that were in the show permanently and only one of those stayed in the same spot.
JGF: Several people in that show, Wish You Were Here, gave us full license to do the dance. So Justin and I wanted to put Yogi Procter’s piece in the Water Tower. He (Yogi) was like go ahead, so we have one of his plexi pieces—it’s still in the Water Tower, it’s still there—I traded with him so it’s my piece now, it’s part of my collection…So Wish You Were Here expanded to the hallways, expanded beyond Garfield Park.
AN: I want to ask you about the various study groups that you’ve hosted since the beginning. Could you say one or two things about them?
JJ: The study groups so far have been Greek literature, science fiction, and documentary film. It’s a way to pool knowledge…we ask, what are we interested in aside from art and can it somehow loop back into our lives as artists? If all you’re doing is running the gallery and putting up shows, you’re still in that art vacuum. So how do you mix it up? We take submissions, decide on a study group idea and then go ahead and run it. For example, Michael Milano submitted a Greek study group and laid out a rough syllabus for it. It was self-run, participant run, and it’s an augmentation of our meetings here, making AD a sort of intellectual hub.
JGF: We’ve always wanted to build an institution. An outside the box, experimental institution for learning and that’s where the study groups come in. It’s a further investigation of something that we can reference, something that would fuel our individual practice and add to the conversation.
AN: I want to ask about the other galleries in your neighborhood like Julius Caesar, Devening Projects and the Suburban. Do you have any interaction with them?
JGF: We support them, because of course we’re all located in the west side, and it’s an emergent district, but I feel like they have more of a finite way of approaching galleries and presenting artists. Edmund does his own thing with Peregrine Program, and we do our own thing.
AN: Yeah, you mentioned allowing artists to come in and curate their own shows, for example. When that happens, do you back off completely or are you still assisting in some way?
JGF: When we give full reins for a solo show to someone like Mark Booth, Alison Rutan and other established artists, we’re still around and they ask us questions. Especially Mark, he’s always so generous and he has a great ear, he asks for advice and comments about things so we’re always involved to a certain degree.
JJ: About self-curating, we want you to show the work that you want to show. We want to encourage you to show the work that you’re working on, that you’re excited about. And that’s why Alison showed ceramic work that she’d never shown before for hers.
AN: So what about a show that includes many people like Water-reading, which is the show that’s up right now?
JGF: We focus the theme of a group show around a specific content. Water-reading is all about creating a context for the different works in the show. But like we just mentioned, it’s also about the present. We really don’t look at what you’ve done in the past. Whether we ourselves are curating or whether other artists are involved, we want to focus on what you’re doing now. And how you can expand on that through experimentation, installation, performance or whatever it is you need to do.
AN: That’s pretty great. Could you say a little bit more about this show? For instance, what were the steps that you went through to put it together?
JJ: For Water-reading and the other shows we curate…first off, we kick off our meetings with what’s on the plate. We have upcoming shows or upcoming spots to fill. We were already discussing a group show and maybe even having a complete season of group shows.
JGF: So we had that in mind before Water-reading.
JJ: We kicked around a lot of ideas of what we’d been thinking about and Holly kept coming back to Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, especially chapter 1, so we discussed it. She sent it out to everybody and we read it, talked about what it meant to us, and what we got out of it, what were the visual cues, what were the philosophical discussions we were having with ourselves based on just this one chapter…
JGF: …and from there, we started an email thread that dealt with practical things like what you could see potentially in the show, visual cues from the work and the artists you know.
JJ: Cutting and pasting the actual literature and then saying this reminds me of…the idea that the Mississippi moves bodily from one spot to another, so that 2 miles of land now sits where the water used to sit. It recreates itself, it hides itself, and it’s constantly changing. That speaks a lot to art, it speaks a lot to contemporary art making.
JGF: We always have an interest in context, so for us the conversation started around that movement of the river and how content moves in and out of art history, and within people’s works. From there we started choosing specific pieces of art from artists.
AN: And everyone is drawing from their own knowledge banks about the artists they know and the kind of work they make?
JJ: And image searches. And then everybody brings in a file they’ve made of images, which we then play off of each other, like what are their similarities? Do they have a too literal connection the text/idea/concept? All the while allowing the conversation to have a flow.
AN: There’s also the relationship between works, too.
JGF: That’s the last stage, where we’re trying to figure out the relationship between the works and all the other components. Do we want them to relate and how? There’s also the title and the press release—what written information are we going to present to the public?
JJ: How much we want to spell it out, if at all. Do we want to have people scratching their heads after they read the press release, or do we want people to have some sort of clue about what they’re going to see? I think it goes a little bit both ways.
AN: This is the press release, right? It’s an excerpt from Life on the Mississippi.
JJ: And then we have the attachment for the show itself. When you come to the show you get more information with the handout.
AN: Which is this right here.
JGF: So we see all those facets being a part of presenting a show. The work and also the written information.
JJ: And we had a lot of work, too. I think we had twice as much work given to us by artists and then based on seeing the work together in the space we weeded out what we didn’t want in the show. We allowed ourselves some leeway there.
AN: There is one piece that I was really taken by and it’s a grey scale painting. Whose painting is it?
JGF: James Kao. He did that one, the small color piece next to it, and the painting on the mushroom. For this particular show, we requested several pieces from artists and once we got them here we picked specific ones for the show. That made for a more concrete definition of the show but it also expanded that definition. Metaphorically the process paralleled the conversation around the Mississippi river.
AN: Could you talk about a particular artist in the show?
JGF: Susan Michod. She’s an older artist, and she references historical and architectural…
JJ: She references Joseph Albers drawings—those geometric lines are borrowed directly from him. He did these multiple perspective drawings…they’re almost M.C. Escher-esque. You can switch perspectives because they’re conjoined line drawings that create a three-dimensional/two dimensional fluctuation. Anyway, she overlays these Joseph Albers drawings on top of these disaster paintings that are very textured and colorful.
JGF: Which are borrowed from frescoes by Giotto.
AN: This is back-tracking a bit, but here’s one final question. AD is located in Garfield Park. Do you engage with the community at all or bring in artists that reflect on its geographic location?
JGF: Yeah, but it fluctuates depending on who’s involved. Sometimes it’s more apparent, and sometimes it’s completely ignored and the space becomes a white cube. I want to bring up Brandon Alvandia’s Ornament and Crime.
JJ: He created the show himself but it was based on a conversation we had with him. We wanted him to be the first show here, but he’s a very busy artist and we ended up having him as our third show. We were bringing him in right when we were starting AD and we talked about the location. It was in the forefront of our minds at the time. What does this location mean, what does it mean to the art world and historically, why are artists always in these situations, steered into certain neighborhoods based on rent? And he made a show that took that conversation and joined it with a conversation that he was having with his own practice at the time about art as ornament and ornament as crime. Ornament is perceived to be a crime against art in some instances. And then taking stock of where we are physically and historically, why this area is so riddled with crime.
JGF: His wife is a public defendant in Chicago and she’s always around court cases and crime in general.
JJ: So that was an element, documentation and historical reference to actual crimes. So the show was called Ornament and Crime (And Crime).
JGF: There were 2 sides to the space. One side was a Michelle Grabner piece, with a palm tree and a desk and objects that were beautiful. It treated the space like a smaller white cube and the other side was dark. There was a light box with baggies for containing drugs in it. He also had broken glass in one corner, evidence of crime being committed, and an audio of those police scanners. For the show it was a live police scanner, which we then recorded and looped. He also had a piece by Joe Baldwin. Joe Baldwin hired a chauffeur and an Escalade playing a sound piece. So you get into the Escalade and you follow a designated route around Garfield Park. The route was the same duration as the sound piece so as you circled around Garfield Park you listened to this manipulated loop of Make It Rain by Travis Porter. So it sounds like, “make it rain, make it rain,” and it repeats and it speeds up and slows down, but it’s the same, “make it rain,” over and over.
AN: Who rides in the Escalade?
JJ: Whoever comes to the show. You signed up. It took 11 minutes for the loop, so every 15 minutes there was a ride.
JGF: So every show is different but that one was very apparent, especially being on that tour. There was a discomfort being inside an art piece that loops Make It Rain, going around in a black Escalade.
AN: Yeah, it’s confrontational.
JGF: It is. I felt uncomfortable…
AN: What was the sound level?
JJ: It was loud. Too loud to talk.
AN: And obviously you cut quite a figure, riding around in this Escalade around town with this blaring sound…
JJ: But you also blend in in a certain way because if you do ride around here you see vehicles like that all the time. But the confrontation is happening inside the Escalade not on the outside at all. You’re not out of place.
JGF: It’s inside you.