This upcoming weekend will mark the one year anniversary of the Chicago based arts blog The Paper Crane, which was started by a dear friend and contributor to The New Heroes, Dee Clements. Dee has been a part of the Chicago art scene for 10 years, making her own art as a painter and also working as an impresario of sorts; connecting individuals, fostering artists work and creating a forum for a dialogue about art and culture. To celebrate the one year anniversary of the blog, The Paper Crane will be hosting an open house at its new space located at 2846 West North Avenue. I sat down with Dee this week to reflect on the past year and discuss the blog and its destiny as an artistic symposium in the future.
Thomas: What motivated you to start the Paper Crane?
Dee: Well I started it as a personal blog to document my own artwork and process. Then I found that I had begun writing a lot about other people’s work and shows that I had seen. I started doing that so much that I decided that I needed to have a website that was dedicated to arts writing and criticism. My background is in visual arts and not necessarily in arts writing so it was also about creating my own opportunity to analyze culture. Specifically, I wanted to focus on the visual arts in Chicago. We have a pretty unique community of artists living and working here, and it felt like this was something Chicago needed – something that people could go to if they wanted to see what was going on in this city.
T: In terms of the criticism component, how do you reconcile the want to foster a positive environment with the responsibility to provide a thorough commentary?
D: The goal is to not be afraid to make a statement or give an opinion about art or art making. I try to keep it constructive though.
T: I think it’s difficult. There are two ends of the spectrum. On one you have a critic that is actually a fan, a follower of someone’s work and on the other side you have the hyper-critical journalist that is actually just obsessed with their own voice.
D: I’m not really interested in that at all. I’m much more interested in fostering a community of emerging artists and people who are doing what they love. I find anyway that most artists are there own harshest critics.
T: Well I think the great thing about it, and something that’s important to The New Heroes is having artists interviewing artists. I think it immediately makes artists more receptive to being interviewed and it doesn’t have to be about criticism – it can be about a discussion concerning a shared creative process. I think it gets you a lot farther – it automatically changes the dynamic of an interview.
D: Yeah it definitely becomes more of a dialogue. I usually have some questions written down because I want to direct the conversation in a certain direction but I pretty much just sit down and start talking. It ends up just being a conversation about art and ideas. I think its easier for me to talk with them because I understand the process of making art, I understand the emotional side of that and the critical side of that and about the sacrifices that artists make. I feel like I can tap into the inner workings of an artist’s process.
T: It seems like one of the things that makes Chicago unique is the how inclusive it is. Obviously there are prominent artist communities all over but they often seem to be very focused on exclusivity and I don’t feel like that about Chicago.
D: In Chicago that doesn’t really exist. I mean it’s always about striving for something -but the community here is much more forgiving and accepting and I think that we’re unique in that. I think artists are attracted to living and working here because they don’t have to compromise the quality of life. I mean you can afford an apartment with heat in it here! I feel like the community is incredibly nurturing – it’s just about making art and being involved. I’ve gotten a really great response from people that read The Paper Crane. In fact I can’t ever really believe that anyone reads it.
T: I know isn’t that funny! You kind of put it out there into the world and never really know who’s reading it.
D: Well its kind of amazing, The site has built in analytics and it is always funny to get emails or see who’s reading it. I am always astounded that people outside of my immediate friend group are finding it.
T: So where do you see The Paper Crane in 5 or 10 years.
D: Well I feel kind of silly answering this …. My goals for The Paper Crane are continuing the online content and to bring on a number of contributors, to keep developing the writing and making it more in depth and developing a small press to put out artists books. Eventually I’d like to have a space that is big enough to be a permanent gallery space, and a studio space. So we would kind of have all of those things fall under the name The Paper Crane.
T: One of the things that I worry about is that tangible objects like artist’s books or print work will become obsolete. It seems like there is a shift toward a sound byte centered society that doesn’t want to sit down and spend time with a book.
T: Do you think that people will ever stop wanting to have something tangible?
D: No, I think that people will always use pencils. I think people are still going to draw in their sketchbooks. I feel like there are a lot of us out there who still love opening up a newspaper or reading a real book instead of a Kindle. I think there are a lot of people out there that still love handmade things.
T: I think thankfully that’s been a counter movement in the last few years. The whole DIY hands-on, crafted movement is really a reaction to the way mainstream culture is moving. From clothing, to periodicals, to art.
D: I think there are a lot of people who still want that in their life – who still appreciate that – who may have a really technical background but still love the idea of homemade things. The digital age isn’t a fad, it’s not going away, so I think we need to find a way to exist digitally and tangibly.
T: I think ultimately aesthetics will win out. Not just visually but in terms of a sensory experience. Right now you have this inundation of ill-conceived media when you go online. There are terrible ads everywhere, and links and nothing is cohesively laid out or pleasant to look at. I think that there will be this complete overhaul where all of that media saturation is reversed and people pare everything down to well-designed, essential material. I think we are definitely headed to that breaking point now – where people will just not be able to stand it anymore…
D: Well I think in everyday life that is already happening. With the way that the economy has fallen in the last few years people are reconsidering things that fill their lives, and what we are doing to the planet.
T: Yeah I guess it’s a cyclical thing. What has happened to the economy has really forced our society to reexamine what we need versus what we want. Maybe this just happens to society every few generations – there is this period of over consumption and saturation that is eventually purged. An economic crisis is the catalyst for this to happen.
D: Well I don’t think that everyone will choose to read a book over a kindle or, choose to pick up an artists book – this is a niche culture and its not for everyone – but it is something that I care about and that I think is worth preserving and fostering.
The Paper Crane is an online art blog that chronicles art practices through a locus of exchange between local and international contemporary art communities. The site serves to support a community of artists working in various mediums through contemporary critical writing. The blog probes the importance and difficulty of situating aesthetic objects within their broader social and political contexts through thought provoking, critical writing that is unafraid to pronounce new ideas or probe artists, students, writers, curators and readers to push toward a paradigm of new possibilities and perspectives. –Dee Clements, The Paper Crane
Photos by Dee Clements and Thomas Nicholas, original work by Dee Clements
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