That was a question artist Chad Kouri had to ask himself when deciding what type of career to pursue. Although, in the end, he chose art and design, music—and jazz in particular—has continued to be a very important aspect in his life. It’s something that informs his work and process as a working artist, which Kouri often describes as improvisational or intuitive, with a lot of trial and error; a lot of experimentation that may or may not work.
But jazz doesn’t just provide Kouri a method of working, it’s also inspiration for his series of works titled Jazz Movement Studies. This body of work began when Kouri first began exploring Chicago’s expansive community of lively free jazz, whose members can be seen at Tuesdays on the Terrace or in performances for The Freedom Principle. Coming from a more traditional jazz training, Kouri has explained: “this sub-genre confused me to say the least. In order to become more comfortable and intimate with these live performances, I started creating small intuitive and gestural drawings during a set, reacting to the physical movement of the performers as well as the sounds, riffs, pops, scratches, and anything else that came out of their instruments (or lack thereof).”
In his drawings you can see swirls and asterisks, zig-zags and figure-eights; marks that create a kind of vocabulary, often repeating within a piece or appearing in multiple works. It’s up to the viewer to assign meaning to these marks, decipher them, or simply enjoy a visual concert unfold. These marks usually become the only record of an experience that is likely unrecorded and improvised; an attempt to capture a fleeting experience—a challenge that Kouri enjoys rising to. There is, of course, artistic precedence for translating music, and especially jazz, into artwork. Kouri cites the bright colors, hard geometry, and abstraction of Stuart Davis (whose work you can see at the Art Institute of Chicago) as an influence on him artistically, and gravitated to it even before knowing there was a musical connection within the art. Josef Albers’s graphic, black-and-white album covers are another favorite of Kouri’s that combine music and visual art.
As an artist, Kouri strives to make his practice accessible to a public and hopes that his drawings will perhaps make free jazz music a little more accessible to everyone. As Kouri hopes for the viewer, “I’d like to think that people who wouldn’t be that excited about jazz music, [maybe what] I do could be an entry point into it.”
Catch Chad Kouri drawing at a Tuesdays on the Terrace or an MCA Stage performance over the course of The Freedom Principle, as he undertakes a special set of drawings for his Jazz Movement Studies related to the exhibition. And check out MCA DNA as we will be publishing his artwork on this blog regularly throughout the run of The Freedom Principle.
Dear All Chicago Artists,
You are all warmly invited to stand in a group portrait, rain or shine, on the steps of the MCA at 11:30 am on Saturday, June 20!
I want to ask impossible questions by attempting a photo like this: What does the Chicago art community look like? What kinds of communities make up this group? Who identifies as a Chicago artist? What can a group portrait tell us about artists in 2015? What might we learn from this image 10 years from now? How about 50?
With these in mind, I am thrilled to invite any and all of you to stand for a group portrait, rain or shine, on the steps of the MCA at 11:30 am on Saturday, June 20!
And for those artists who can’t come?
“All those absent giants of jazz, and others too numerous mention, are nonetheless felt somehow to be present—represented by musicians who played with them, and who inspired and were inspired by them. Like with any family reunion, its absent members are with us in spirit.”
—Ian Patterson, on those missing from the epic 1958 group portrait A Great Day in Harlem
I am inviting artists, if they choose, to bring a photo-of-a-face or head-cutout of someone who can’t make it to the photo shoot if they like. They would be asked to hold it right next to their head so as not to obstruct others:
There is a charming precedent for this seen on the lower left:
To honor this collective moment, I will submit the high-res image into the public domain for anyone to print, alter, and distribute as they see fit (as this seems to happen anyways in our image culture) . . . the image will live in the public where I think it belongs and we can watch it move around, mutate, and engage a greater audience (and multiple histories). Everyone is welcome to download, print, and hang the image as they see fit, publish it in a book, or make it part of their own creative project.
And last, a passage by Karl Oove Knausgaard I’ve been recently inspired by that I think resonates with the upcoming portrait:
The most powerful human forces are found in the meeting of the face and the gaze. Only there do we exist for one another. In the gaze of the other, we become, and in our own gaze others become. It is there, too, that we can be destroyed. Being unseen is devastating, and so is not seeing.
Here are three different views, highlighting the spectacular architecture of the Palacio Velazquez, of two paintings that together make up a triptych first seen on this tour in Vienna (see our earlier post): an impressive welcome to this crystal palace in a sun-soaked city park.
In anticipation of 21Minus this Saturday, Mia Neumann, a first-year Teen Creative Agency member, reflects on her experience both designing the event and collaborating on her project.
I first heard about the Teen Creative Agency when my best friend, Gracee Wallach, told me she was proposing a project for an event called 21Minus. She was ecstatic about the opportunity to show her art, which was very powerful and personal, even though she did not consider herself a practicing artist. The guidance that she was given, along with the incredible platform the TCA provided, was unmatched.
Watching Gracee and the other artists that day inspired me; and my curiosity about the teens running the event led me to search for information about the program and how to join. I knew I needed to be a part of whatever had made something as magical as 21Minus happen and I couldn’t wait to learn more about it.
The day I was accepted into the Teen Creative Agency, now almost a year ago, was also the day I came up with a concept I wanted to explore and bring to the 21Minus festivities.
I was sitting in my room embroidering poetry into old T-shirts for a series I was working on called “Hanging Up My Dirty Laundry” and the idea of creating this same process for the masses came to mind.
I wanted to create a space where barriers are broken down between strangers, and where tensions can safely be released due to the anonymity and the openness of the experience. So, I proposed the idea of creating a therapeutic public art installation titled Dirty Laundry for 21Minus. In my series, this mechanism for sharing thoughts was really moving for me. By inviting the audience to “air out” their covert thoughts through a transcription of their baggage onto fabric, I hope to create an environment where the audience can appreciate each other, participate in a therapeutic process, and dissipate the stress that secrets can have on their conscience.
Dirty Laundry will be presented alongside 24 others works by young artists who answered the TCA’s call to collaborate for 21Minus. With the support of my fellow TCA members, we have worked to refine these ideas and I’m excited to see all of them brought to life on May 30, after seeing this intense process unfold. The passion that flows through the members of the TCA and the artists in preparation for this event could only mean that the final product will be unimaginable.
Working behind the scenes to create the event as a TCA member while also developing a project as a collaborator provides an interesting lens. As both a curator and a creator I am able to help shape the backbone of this remarkable coming together of young artists. At the same time, I am also discovering what it means to bring your ideas as an individual artist to a larger, group effort.
Besides the lifelong friendships I’ve formed with people I met only eight months ago, the opportunities and experiences I’ve gained from the Teen Creative Agency are truly unforgettable.
Come, be inspired, and see every artistic collaboration this Saturday, from 2–6 pm.
The preparation for 21Minus has been filled with an abundance of great ideas, organizing, and planning—lots of planning. It is a major collaborative effort that involves the 25 TCA members, many steps, and many months of work.
Step 1: Put out the call to artists and select collaborators
Earlier this year, we put out a call to other young artists to submit proposals that would activate and engage the museum and its visitors with a fresh, young voice. We reviewed all submissions and accepted our finalists. Altogether, we are developing 25 projects by over 50 young artists that will be featured at the event.
Step 2: Curate and refine projects
Organizing the proposals of wildly different and creative artists was the most difficult aspect of planning. The first thing we did was break into five “curatorial teams” that would be responsible for developing one part of the event: Plaza Spectacle has been working with welcoming, attention-grabbing projects on the plaza; Audience Activated has been handling interactive experiences; Conceptual Performance has been working with performance art; Theater Team has been overseeing performances/workshops in the MCA’s Edlis Neeson Theater; and my group, Classroom of the Future, has been handling a set of projects around nontraditional learning. Each team has taken on four or five projects and a big part of our work so far has been to shape and refine those projects with the artists to make them the best they can be.
As a curatorial team we also had to figure out how each project related to one another. My team’s projects range from aluminum foil sculpting to zine-making to a #BlackLivesMatter discussion, making this goal a bit difficult. So we went through each project and rattled off what made them different or what the project wanted to achieve. This exercise made us realize that every group just wanted to show that anyone can be a teacher and everyone is always a student. Because of this, the Classroom of the Future’s overall goal is to experiment with the teacher-student dynamic in a way that does not happen in a traditional classroom. While it seemed difficult at first, all it took was figuring out the connecting thread from each group to the Classroom’s goal to make them all fit perfectly. This was the process almost every team went through to form an overall “pitch” and a more specific theme for each proposal in their group.
Step 3–5: Figure out the nuts and bolts
After we figured out our overarching themes, we needed to figure out the minor details. This planning has been way more in-depth: where each person, art work, band, workshop, and discussion would be located in the museum and at what time; how much staff is necessary; what materials are needed. Most of the planning days have been long, but they drew us closer to the final decisions for each project.
Step 6–9: Put it all together
As the ideas and logistics for our team’s projects were finalized, we all came back together to see the big picture of what 21Minus would actually look like and how it would flow overall. Hearing every team’s progress and final decisions made 21Minus seem real, not just in planning. We got one step closer to having everything in place for 21Minus. One step closer to having all our planning come into actuality when all of these amazing projects come together.
Step 10: Join us!
Come and see how all of our planning has taken shape at 21Minus on May 30 from 2 to 6 pm.
Want to be part of the 21Minus planning process for next year? Applications for the TCA are open. Apply now!