Chicago - ArtSlant's Chicago City Editor Abraham Ritchie sat down across a printing press from Deborah Maris Lader, the Director of the Chicago Printmaker's Collaborative. An artist and musician in her own right as well as the director of the Collaborative, Lader embodies the diverse artistic fields that Chicago artists regularly participate in and draw inspiration from in addition to the fine arts. Our conversation began with the history of the Collaborative but found its way into many other topics, from the drawbacks of giclee printing to politics. Below is the beginning of our conversation and excerpts from it.
Abraham Ritchie: The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative has been around since 1989 and then in 1999 you moved here to this space in Lincoln Square which is very large. How did the move affect the gallery and the organization? What possibilities did the new area and building allow?
Deborah Lader : The gallery came second, the reason that I opened the collaborative is so that artists have a place to make prints. That is the primary goal, to have a place where professional printmakers can come to make prints and have 24-hour access and have keys to the workshop. Around the same time the classes started, so we were educating people in the methods of printmaking, and some of those people are now professional members of the Collaborative. So some people were able to move from being a student to being a professional printmaker. Then later the gallery started, a logical progression. The old space was just this second-story walkup, it had nice light, but it was a little more raw. Everything was a little pieced together, you saw the seams of the drywall and that sort of thing. We did create a gallery there and did some really nice shows, international and local. Then we when moved up here in 1999 and that did change a lot of things. One thing was that we are now a first floor walk up gallery, which is really nice because we get a lot of street traffic, but when artists are working that's not such a good thing! Initially we had a gallery up in the loading dock, but I ended up building four artist studios in there instead and moving the gallery into the main workshop. It also has been called "The Workshop Print Gallery" so it makes sense to have it right in the workshop. The nice thing about it is that people can come and see prints being made while they're looking at the work on the walls, another bit of education. We're about the farthest from a "cold gallery space" that there could be. This is a very welcoming and warm environment to interact with artists and art.
AR: In a conversation I had with Nicolas Lampert last month he talked about Chicago being a great place for artists working together in ways alternative to mainstream galleries. Could you describe your experience as an artist living in Chicago?
DL: There are so many artists here, so [creating an artist collaborative] like I did is a logical step. It's more of a supportive community, it's not really competitive. The more the merrier is a general kind of attitude, I think. Plus, it's cheaper to do something like this here too. There's always some neighborhood you can go into and find cheap space.
AR: That's exactly what he said too. Cheap space.
DL: Yeah! You can always find a neighborhood where you can afford space. Business communities tend to support their artists, in a way. . . When we moved in here, there weren't that many arts organizations. There was Old Town School of Folk Music, a few smaller organizations and Lillstreet Street Art Center came later. The aldermen and the chamber of commerce were all so excited to have us here, and I have never had that response from the business community. But I realized that the business community were also the people that were probably going to buy art, and come to the demos. Although they may not be artists, they are interested in what we're doing as artists and learning more about it. So that was a big difference in coming here. Then I was asked to be on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce! I never thought I would be asked, you know I'm just an artist. But it was very interesting, [as] an artist and [as] a woman. . . We feel like the Collaborative is really part of the neighborhood, even though I am not on the Board anymore they still call me if they need some creative help, booking music or things like that. [. . .]
Carrie Iverson, The Facade Project, 2004; Photo: Lia Conklin
AR: Let's talk about the Façade Project a little bit. Could you give us the background of why you decided to create this memorial?
DL: Just before the last election, we were all going crazy. For the most part we're all tilted a little to the left around here for some reason. But none of us wanted to see George Bush in office. More than that though we wanted people to vote, no matter where that vote was going. So we did a big artistic awareness thing for voting. We started to plan what ended up to be "The Voter Project" which was a huge event-- I rented out the vacant second floor of the building for it. We ran extension cords up there and we had a stage and speakers and music. We had the League of Women Voters registering. We had a stage on the first floor also and we had people playing music on the street. It was a party. We told people if they brought in their voting receipts they could get a free print from "The Small Print Show," which we did, we gave a lot of prints away, and now I have a stack of receipts that I'll have to do some kind of project with. That was the mindset at that time, we were angry, we were stoked up, and at the same time that "The Voter Project" was being planned, since we're the only tenant in a vacant building, I thought that we should do something with the vacant levels. Some sort of temporary exhibit that utilizes the front of the building, the façade.
We had all kinds of ideas, we had several meetings, I even went so far as to stage shadow-play productions, I had people looking at it across the street in the middle of the night. A lot of things came up in the idea phase. That's when Carrie Iverson had the idea to put up images of the people that had died in Iraq, the American servicemen and women. Initially we were going to put them up very large, one per window, but then I got some of the images in the 8.5"x11" size and we realized that we could fit nine per window pane. But she installed that, that was her project. And I think she went through quite an emotional time with it too, she did all the research, found all these faces and they were all coming out of her laserprinter. Everyone one of them had died and I think that that must have been really hard for her. When it went up, it got a lot of attention, it was on the AP newswire, people came to film and take pictures, there were a couple of TV news stories about it. What I really liked about the project is that it was a non-partisan project. It doesn't matter what side of the fence you are on, it's about honoring the people who put their lives on their line and died. Carrie has expanded the project, she did some things at the New York Public Library. Meanwhile, I'm the one that's here and people call and they come see it. I've had these amazing experiences with people from this, and I try to share them with her and others.
One day two Iraqis, they were uncle and nephew, stopped by and wanted to go up and see it on the inside. On the inside it looks like black-and-white stained glass, because the photos are laser-printed on white paper so it's very translucent. Have you seen the photos?
Carrie Iverson, The Facade Project, 2004; Photo: Lia Conklin.
AR: Yes, I was going to say it looks like a cathedral, especially with the light coming into the larger space.
DL: Yeah, it's really powerful seen on the inside. It's also frightening and religious in a way. So I took these two Iraqi men up there, and they happened to be Christian Iraqis, and they were just in tears. They were sobbing. They had each lost family members in this conflict. The stories that came out of this project were amazing and so sad. I said something to them about how I was sorry that this was just Americans and they said to me, "They're people. They're just people." They were so beautiful and they shared this story with me. They were still trying to get their family out of Iraq and they couldn't reach them, they were trying to send them money and they just couldn't find them at all. So they were really worried about their family, the women and children.
All these stories, sad, sad stories. It's been a process. The idea also has been that we'll take it down once the war ends and here we are, all these years later. It's still going on.
AR: It's interesting to me to see the grid of the soldier's faces on The Façade Project and it really reminds me of the project Steve McQueen submitted for the British soldiers killed in action, to have a single soldier's face repeated over a sheet of their postal stamps. The desire to remember the faces of those lost and the element of the grid are really similar.
DL: Yeah, people will call me and say so-and-so has a thing like yours does that bother you? I say no, of course not, the more the better.
AR: It seems like we all have to memorialize this in some way and remember those faces.
DL: I think that one reason that this got so much attention is that no one is seeing the body bags, and the faces of the dead were buried in the middle of the paper, because no one wanted to acknowledge how bad it was over there. So Carrie and I had a talk about it and we both agreed that the more people build these kinds of memorials, the better. If someone asked can I do this in my building, we'd say yes. There's no copyright on this. We want to have that awareness. Do this project elsewhere.
We continued talking for some time, I listened as she shared different stories about the impact that The Façade Project continues to have on people. The Project has overrun its borders by now, with the extended presence in Iraq, and the casualities have filled the large windows of the top three floors and are now filling the street-level windows, like the saddest yearbook. Tellingly, these images now are wallet-sized as if to prepare for five more long years in Iraq with five more years of casualities. Literally as I was walking out the door the family of a fallen soldier arrived at the building after coming from across town specifically to see his photo in the building. We went up to see his photo and learned his name and a little about him. He was 19 when he died.
ArtSlant would like to thank Deborah Maris Lader for her assistance in making this interview possible.