Installation View, Lorraine Duaw: Nancy Drew Titan Savor at The Hills Esthetic Center, 2013

CAW (pronounced “kawh”) was founded in 2012 by artists Sofia Leiby and Jason Lazarus following late night conversations about the state of art criticism with other artists at The Hills Esthetic Center. Their goal was the formalization, through writing, of the informal conversations that happen all the time between artists and usually in private. This body of writing, created through dialog with artistic practice, would form a vital counterweight to other compromised forms like art criticism in service of the market, milquetoast art journalism, glorified event listings or Buzzfeed-ish listicles. Truthfully, progress towards their ambitious goal has been uneven. CAW largely mimics its community in that it is also DIY, and any ragtag effort struggles to maintain stakeholder commitments and a steady stream of financial resources. The Propeller Fund award in 2013 was a turning point for CAW that allowed us to hold writing workshops, pay writers for their work and build a more contemporary, mobile responsive website. Sept 27th, 2017 marks the 5th anniversary of Chicago Artist Writers inaugural call for proposals.  The half-decade past has also produced a remarkable archive of writing that CAW’s next five years will build upon.

Dana DeGiulio at The Suburban, November 2013

OUR Archive

The past five years of CAW are personalized accounts of pivotal moments for Chicago’s artists and their spaces. The archive records nearly eighty venues around the city. Among our archive are lesser-known exhibitions by soon-to-be well-known artists, influential exhibitions that changed the landscape of Chicago’s art scene, and just plain curiosities, like the snap reviews artworks from the booths of the MDW Fair.  

For instance, Brook Sinkinson Withrow’s 2012 account Cauleen Smith’s exhibition at threewalls chronicles one of Smith’s larger presentations of Sun Ra’s effects and influence, a crucial effort in her development of Afrofuturism.  Sinkinson wrote that Smith “offers the possibility that she (and her audience) could become meaningful collaborators with Sun Ra” and drew quirky parallels with Storm Thorgerson’s album art. The show and CAW’s record of it presaged much of Smith’s subsequent practice. In 2013, CAW covered Dana DeGiulio’s memorable exhibition at the Suburban, where she violently reversed a used car (purchased through the sale of the gallery owners artwork) into the gallery/shed. This was an exhibition that left a mark on the space both physically and psychically. It was a kind of comma in the Suburban story (and nearly a period on its time in Chicago). Writer Nick Bastis termed the event a “poetic submission to the crowd’s desire and the limits of an artist when placed on the stage” in his review.  

Untitled (Gollum), performance, plastic boulder, coffee-dyed loin cloth, mask, Hue LED light, rocks, running water, dead fish, 2014

Perhaps another memorable moment was Puppies Puppies show during the remodeling of Courtney Blades in 2015 where the artist assumed the role of a watchful Gollum in the basement. Upstairs viewers had to negotiate a space with partially demolished walls. Micah Schippa wrote that the exhibition showed that “the bathroom may be privacy’s last imaginary sanctuary”. In 2014, the future editor of Newcity Magazine’s art section Eliot Reichart critically dissected a Hyde Park Art Center show of artist-run activity writing that “in creatively resuscitating a brief moment in the history of Chicago apartment galleries, [the curators] examine the crucial role these minute, ephemeral institutions play in the production, exchange, and circulation of visual arts in Chicago.”  

The micro-institution of the artist-run space is one of Chicago’s defining tropes, most recently on view in the “use whatever’s available” Terrain Biennial. This year’s version is a network of national and international spaces aggregating decks, yards, and leftover public space into a hopeful attempt at critical mass. This tendency is evident throughout the archive in other places like 2016’s version of the 2nd Floor Rear performance festival located throughout the city along two popular El Lines. CAW covered both days of the festival, documenting artist’s responses to the shock election of 45, and leaving reviewer Brit Barton asking the questions “what is performance art in this new age of political resistance?” and “how do performance artists create authentic experiences within a city that shifts boundaries and personas so easily?”

Annie Kielman + Josh Patterson, et. al, The MorphoTransverse Methods (2017) at Tritriangle. Photograph by Brit Barton.

Looking back through an archive like ours reaffirms the value of the many DIY efforts in Chicago. Often ephemeral, purposely obscure or just not into attention seeking, artist-led culture is more legible when it is seen in sum. Efforts that seem marginal when considered alone, become magnified when viewed as a type or genre of artistic practice. Building shared histories and critical responses to our own work is an important and fundamental job.

Support CAW

Today, after five years, Chicago Artist Writers needs your help in order to continue its work. There are many ways to support us.

  • Read it. We write for it to be read! This fall we’ll be publishing primarily on Wednesdays (#CAWednesday) so that it’s destination reading. Check back on Wednesdays or signup for our newsletter to be notified about new articles.  
  • Criticize it. We value reader input and thorough critiques of our writing or our platform. Write a thoughtful letter to the editor and we’ll publish it.  Send your emails to editor@chicagoartistwriters.com.
  • Write for it. Chicago Artist Writers operates on an ongoing, open submission basis. We encourage artists of all types to submit written content of all types. We love helping first-time writers including students or recent graduates of BFA or MFA programs!
  • Donate to it.  If you value the work that we’ve done so far please help financially if you can. The money collected by CAW goes directly to the artist/writers for their work.  Please consider giving a small monthly amount to CAW through our Patreon account. Patreon is a crowdfunding platform without a deadline. It allows us to meet a new online audience of patrons, to continue operating without formalizing into a non-profit and to make monthly small contributions easier for our supporters.

CAW thanks our readers for their support! We are proud of the collective work of our artist-writers these past five years. We are continually challenged by constantly renewing and spirited artists of Chicago.