[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #5 in October 2007]
I began The Green Lantern Gallery and Press in 2005. I host monthly exhibitions, publish limited edition original fiction and incorporate other performance events. Through these varied modes of communication, I hope to engage a wider audience than is possible with just one medium. Though I’ve embraced the white-cube gallery model to an extent, the ceiling is still red pressed tin (which for some reason reminds me of a cowboy brothel), and there is a massive section of old signage inside, straight on the brick, that says, “BITTERS the best stimulant and tonic.” This is The Green Lantern Gallery and Press: a loft-space that totals 1,200 square feet. It is divided in half. The street-side front is the exhibition space. I have chosen to live in the back end. It is a second story walk up in a two story flat. My landlord runs the sewing machine store downstairs and the building has been in his family for four generations. I think he’s happy with me. I’m mostly quiet, I don’t have eight roommates and I pay rent on time.
I started the space for a number of reasons. I am interested in creating a non-commercial interface for the public: a place where private thoughts, or dedicated periods of creative expression, can reach an audience. I am interested in fostering a dialogue around that process and as best I can, exploring the connections between different mediums of culture. Most of all, The Green Lantern is a physical space dedicated to the practice of art in community. Because I live there, it also informs my daily domesticities.
The exhibitions are scheduled a year in advance and follow the course of a theme. From September 2006 to July 2007 exhibitions explored the condition of post-modernism, i.e. what it means to create work under the pressure of self-awareness, historical relevance and consequential irony. September featured Matthew Teztloff’s glib and sentimental pencil drawings about the office cube, fashion and text that responded to itself. In January, collaborative paintings by Peter Hoffman and Caleb Lyonswere on view. Their work was evidence of an ongoing and oftentimes deconstructive dialogue about painting. Finally, Swedish artist Mathias Kristersson and local Todd Mattei resolved the theme in a show curated by Stevie Greco entitled “Nothing is possible to explain with language. It’s without it it’s impossible.”
While the thematic umbrella of each season is not necessarily apparent to the audience (it is essential that every show can stand on its own, with its own premise), it is important that a second level of meaning is accessible to those who might be interested. It is a way of contextualizing the work within a larger context, and within that context each successive artist is, for a moment, relevant to the rest.
My hope is that these annual themes will build on each other, providing a linear progression relevant to our time. In order to move beyond the post-modern condition, it was first examined. Season 2007-2008 will focus on the death of identity. Daniel Anhorn’s show “Over the Map” explores the tension between humanity and its environment, themes that will be pushed further in a later exhibition of work and oral histories by some of Chicago’s homeless population. In January, Hiro Sakaguchi is curating a show called “Useless Weapon.” It isn’t until June that a soft sculpture installation by Amanda Browder called “Cylone” will provide a sense of rebirth. I hope to frame an external life to death experience as a way of moving beyond the potential paralysis of self-consciousness.
In keeping with the non-commercial nature of the space, the books we print are not motivated by profit (but are for sale in order to cover costs). We believe in “slow media”; each book is a text-object printed in editions of 500. Every cover is silk screened by hand and the writing is donated. Every author keeps her rights. To date, we have printed three books: two original works of fiction, God Bless The Squirrel Cage by Nicholas Sarno III, Urbesque by Moshe Zvi Marvit, and The Arts Administrators Sketchbook, edited by Elizabeth Chodos and Kerry Schneider. Like the gallery, the hope of this press is to create another doorway through which art makers can find an audience.
Like many cities, Chicago has a plethora of independent art spaces. They sit under the rapid expanse of alternative culture as small and ubiquitous pockets of under-recognized achievement. These pockets migrate from neighborhood to neighborhood over the course of several years, often arriving en masse on the cusp of gentrification and fleeing thereafter for cheaper space. On average, they seem to exist for about five years before they close down and are quickly replaced by others elsewhere. They are organic, behaving like cells and the regenerative cycle of these spaces is more important than the existence of any one particular venue. Most simply, each of these spaces is about a complex series of relationships where the inherent value of an art practice is taken for granted.
In other words, The Green Lantern is part of a larger circle of organizations. Its function cannot be separated from those. While it might be important to distinguish itself from the rest, it is nevertheless dependent on a collective culture. It is therefore in everyone’s best interest to go beyond the monthly exhibition and devise various methods of collaboration that will keep that community vital. One project that ThreeWalls (an NFP artist-in-residency program in the West Loop) and The Green Lantern have been working on is an annual directory of national alternative exhibition venues in which over 150 different art spaces with varying intentions have submitted their address, their mission statement, and in some cases, their forthcoming calendars. This is due out on September 7th. It is calledPHONEBOOK. Hopefully it will begin to raise awareness about our shared and vibrant resources.
Art functions differently in an apartment gallery. It does not try to participate in the historical canon of Western art. Each exhibition is ephemeral, fleeting and marred with signs of mortality: dishes might be in the sink, for instance, or a mug that someone uses to sip is cracked. There is a lack of pretension in apartment galleries, precisely because it would be impossible to boast. I believe these spaces serve an immediate function in our time. They foster a community with a higher purpose: inherent in each exhibition space, in each necessary negotiation between artist, arts administrator, press and public, is the unfoundable hypothesis that art is inherently worthwhile. It is an honor to be a part of such a community.
To see images from exhibitions visit on-line at www.thegreenlantern.org