January 10 – March 1, 2020

All photos by Sarah Elizabeth Larson

ST(ART) UP Opening Party

All photos by Erin Dickson

About the Artist

Takashi Shallow (he/they) signifies imagined and real hierarchies that he presents through found objects and social engagement. Shallow completed a BA in Fashion Design at Dominican University then an MFA at the University of Chicago where his experience as a teaching assistant for Theaster Gates inspired new trajectories for Shallow’s material gathering process. Previously a tailor and acrobatics coach, he now teaches art and music at Purdue University Northwest and is a board member of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society. Dazed Digital includes Shallow in the article 10 of the best Chicago artists right now and The Arts Club of Chicago has named him a Visual Arts Fellow.

Interview with Takashi

Chicago-based artist Takashi Shallow identifies imagined and real hierarchies that he presents through found objects and social engagement. His practice takes shape in part as a “music-ish” label called Gesamt, a body of work that pursues collaborative, interdisciplinary art. As an artist and music producer, Shallow’s creative process functions transmedium and is steadfastly synergetic. Self-described as “medium translations,” Gesamt is the result of a process in which ideas are transmitted through a series of exchanges (think exquisite corpse) to achieve mutual elevation. Gesamt emphasizes process and product equally, stressing that there is no hierarchy between mediums, authorship, or outcome, but rather a synthesis of ideas that create a Gesamtkunstwerk, or a total work of art.

The following is a conversation between curator and DJ Alyssa Brubaker and Takashi Shallow on his body of work, Gesamt.

AB: Let’s start with Gesamt, can you tell me a bit about how this project began?

TS: I think it began with a desire to shift notions of ownership away from myself. I’ve always enjoyed the etiquette that surrounds dubs and remixes of electronic music, for which producers edit each other’s songs and authorship begins to dissolve. For Gesamt’s first piece, I presented the back of an artwork by my friend Kevin Pang. When we discussed credits later, Kevin said that when the piece faces forward it’s still his piece, but when we turn it around, it becomes our collaborative piece. I’m endlessly fascinated by the drastic social difference between the two orientations of the piece. I think this type of conceptual sharing became the foundation for the overarching Gesamt project.

AB: You also have your own art making practice and you’re a music producer/DJ too. Would you say your work as Gesamt denies or highlights any divisions in tasks between your various roles? I’m curious how you think of your role as facilitator, maker, and presenter within this body of work.

TS: I do tasks that artists do, and I do tasks that administrators do. But usually a label, gallery, or agency represents a sole musician or visual artist, so when a painter begins taking on managerial duties and says those duties are part of their practice, we don’t simply promote them to curator. Rather, we call that person an “artist as curator,” “socially-engaged artist,” or “occupational realist.” Somehow, these designations are different from a mere gallerist who also happens to be a painter. Maybe the labor is the same, but Adam Smith would define it one way and Marx another way.

AB: I agree. I enjoy the duality that is present in your work, whether it’s through featuring the backside of a sculpture next to a poem, remixing multiple versions of your own tracks, or playing the role of “artist as administrator.” I think there is something interesting happening when these various identities are present in your work. Perhaps we can call you an “artist as producer/instigator/reciprocator”?

TS: I recently came across a wall text that called Theaster Gates an “organizer” in place of honorifics like “artist” or “director.” I enjoyed how modest, yet accurate “organizer” seemed, and I thought to myself, “when I grow up, I want to be an organizer.”

AB: What are medium translations?

TS: One of my favorite medium translations is the fabric tube choreographer Martha Graham interacts with in her piece Lamentation. In fact, it’s not even a translation. The dance wouldn’t exist without the textile nor the textile without the dance. She makes textile art and dance into one, turning the textile into much more than a costume. I’m not there yet, but I aspire towards something like that.

AB: I like how you reference this piece in relation to the idea of “medium translations.” Graham’s performance to me is about the economy of a gesture, and how she broke away from the traditional forms of dance that were present during that period of time in order to create a new language of form. And considering how this piece continues to be reinterpreted throughout the years by other dancers and artists, I think it’s quite relevant. To me, Gesamt is about the act or the gesture and about creating an artistic synthesis that is able to reach viewers on multiple levels.

TS: I hope so, because I think the truth has multiple levels, but we’ve grown accustomed to a media environment that endorses the division of labor. Through Gesamt, I’m trying to unlearn the separation between social roles and artistic mediums. For example, I like making art with self-identified, non-artists.

AB: I’m really interested in the various definitions of the word “medium.” In a grammatical form it represents a middle voice (which is interesting to me in thinking about hierarchy or authorship), also a medium is someone who conveys information from the spirit world (I think DJ’s fall into this category, more on this later). Medium is a format for communication and presenting info; it’s the material or empty space through which signals, waves or forces pass; and lastly, it’s the nature of the surrounding environment. Taking all of these various forms into consideration, what role does medium play within Gesamt, other than its materiality?

TS: I wish the word “medium” meant all those things in my life, but I encounter the word mostly as something that pigeonholes artistic practices. The good part is that playing with cultural assumptions becomes an interesting medium of its own.

AB: Right, for example when relational aesthetics became recognized as an artistic “medium,” it certainly helped to authenticate the artistic intention of a gesture.

TS: I agree, but at the same time I wonder if the coinage of new mediums merely feeds into the obsessive necessity to define mediums. At first, exhibits that we now call “relational aesthetics” were novel. But the moment Nicolas Bourriaud added the term to the dictionary of art jargon, I think something was lost.

AB: I’m also interested in this idea of translation, which purpose is to convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural differences between the source and target languages. However, there are also certain things you can express in one language that can’t be translated. So, in thinking of medium as Gesamt’s primary form of language, what is the process of interpretation, response, and feedback like?

TS: Creatives often say that something inspired them or that they are channeling someone. Some of the Gesamt pieces transpired this way. With Slack, composer Steve Reich’s phase pieces reminded me of a DJ’s beat-matched records falling out of sync, so I composed a techno piece much like Reich did: I played two loops simultaneously at slightly different BPMs (beats-per-minute). The word “slack” came to mind. The slack of the slower loop, the slack of magnetic tape hanging off a bobbin. I go rock climbing with my friend Jesse and we often yell down to each other “take up the slack!” or “give me more slack!” So, we spent a day seeing if we could make a sculpture using his climbing equipment.

AB: Back to DJing. There is a level of spirituality I think that is present when you’re playing to a crowd. DJ’s have been elevated to a level of preacher or spiritual medium status with their ability to transmit messages via soundwaves and propagate energy that is shared collectively. I think this body of work showcases how creative power moves through various mediums and incites a call and response action in the same ways that DJ’s do. In many of the medium translations, you chose to respond with music. Talk to me about this process and how you arrive to these places.

TS: Music, especially club music, is as physically felt as it is heard. The pleasure of heavy bass is somehow undeniable. The simplicity of techno and house percussion ignites something that feels ancient within me. I’m planning on playing a bunch of Paula Temple tracks at the opening. I read lots of articles that describe the horrors of politics and the environment, but I think Temple captures it better. I hope everyone’s ready for the weight and intensity of her music.

AB: It makes sense that your opening party is going to be a rave, which I think is super relevant because raves aim towards an egalitarian utopia. We’re all equal on the dance floor, if you will. There is an egalitarian element to Gesamt in that the process and product are equal, and authorship is not solely claimed. So, in thinking about Gesamtkunstwerk, does this practice represent an ideal work of art to you?

TS: Sometimes openings have DJs, but everyone knows those DJs are just accompaniments rather than headliners. I’m interested in participating in a platform that not only presents multiple art forms but does so democratically.

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Friday, January 10, 2020


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