Smile Politely

WorkSpace: Outhaus

Smile Politely: Could you tell us something about you and your life here in C-U?

Bert: I was an art critic, curator, artist, and art teacher in Chicago for 17 years– I spent 10 years teaching art full-time in a public high school on the southeast side of the city. I’m now pursuing my Ph.D. in art education at the University, writing my dissertation on the work of Chicago anti-prison artist and activist Laurie Jo Reynolds and her group Tamms Year Ten. I work in Urbana with the Education Justice Project, a unit of the University that teaches upper-level undergraduate classes at the Danville Correctional Center, and Build Programs Not Jails, a local group working to realize various alternatives to incarceration.

Katie: I was an art advisor with a firm that serviced private and corporate clients in Chicago for five years. Since moving to Urbana I was the building and finance director at the Champaign- Urbana Independent Media Center, the campaign office manager for State Representative Carol Ammons in the 2014 primary campaign, and the Operations Manager of the Education Justice Project, where Bert volunteers. I enjoy creative cooking, and I now devote most of my time to taking care of our new baby, Simone.

SP: What is Outhaus, when, how and why did you create this space?

Outhaus: We both showed and curated work in various independent spaces in Chicago, which included domestic, industrial, and storefront spaces devoted to experimental artwork and not committed to selling work or getting arts grants. Our apartment was very small, and we didn’t have time or space to do any of our own programming, but when we moved to Urbana, and eventually got a place with a lovely little miniature house out back, we decided to start showing artwork. This was basically a way to continue interacting with artists we love and appreciate, meet new artists and friends of the arts, and keep ourselves from feeling isolated.

SP: What is the process to produce an exhibit, how you make the call for an artist and how you select the projects?

Outhaus: The process is very informal. We occasionally put calls up on Facebook, and sometimes approach individual artists we know through email or texts. Artists pitch ideas, we discuss them, and then they basically end up doing something similar or identical to what they proposed.

SP: Do you follow specific criteria or guideline to select the artist or the projects?

Outhaus: We like to show artists who have surprising and unusual ideas that have some exciting conceptual content while also taking into account the formal qualities of the space. We also have made use of our basement and our front walkway for showing art, so artists are not restricted to the Outhaus itself.

SP: Tell us about a past exhibit.

Outhaus: Edra Soto is an old friend, an amazing artist, and an important Chicago curator. We have curated each other into a few shows in the past, and I (Bert) am currently curating an installation of Edra’s work, entitled GRAFT, at the gallery Cuchifritos in New York City. The current work makes use of decorative motifs familiar from wrought-iron fences and screens, an important source of Edra’s inspiration, but replaces metal with cut paper and uses faux-finish painting techniques to camouflage them against the peculiar wall veneer within the Outhaus.

SP: Tell us about the current show.

Outhaus: For An All New You, an automated representative of the MWCDS* will conduct a ritual in experiential marketing. Get info and updates about the service. Learn how to best shed your former selves.

*The Mental Waste Collection and Disposal Service (MWCDS) operates as a terminus for contagious psychic garbage, removing it forever from our interconnected mental ecologies. MWCDS turns psychic garbage into physical trash.

A landline telephone (AT&T) and cassette tape answering machine (Panasonic KX-T 1920 Easa Phone) is available at anytime for waste drop off. All calls are confidential**. All calls are sealed in concrete after recording. No one will ever hear the content of your call ***.

**The Panasonic KX-T 1920 Easa Phone Answering Machine is housed in a locked sound proofed container in an undisclosed location.

***The MWCDS strongly encourages attempts at anonymity when using our service (burner phones, public pay phones, Torphones, etc.).

C.Smith has exhibited at Mesa Project Space in Portland, OR, as well as Antena, Eastern Expansion, and The Franklin in Chicago, IL. He ran +medicine cabinet, Terraformer, Sofa King, Second Bedroom Project Space with Irene Perez, and currently runs The Opgenorth in Champaign, IL.

Images contributed by Outhaus

SP: What do you think about the art scene in C-U?

Outhaus: It is a real shame that the University’s gallery in downtown Champaign, Figure One, will be closing in June. I (Bert) have the honor of curating the last show there, which is titled “White Feelings.” I have gathered a number of artists, but am still looking for artifacts, performances, texts, etc., from anyone who would like to make a statement about the “preciousness” of white people’s emotional fragility, and ways in which white people’s discomfort and fear is allowed to have greater importance than the lives of brown and black people. I am interested in the new galleries that MFA students at the University are creating in their work spaces and living spaces, like East Wall Gallery, and the Opgenorth. There are good things being done at the Independent Media Center, as well– Travis Hocutt seems very interested in curating experimental artwork. Lastly, we think the Krannert Museum is a real treasure. It is a bit of a second-tier academic museum, but that allows for a lot of surprises, both in terms of the temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection.

SP: What are your favorites spots in C-U?

Outhaus: We go to restaurants when we can– it’s tough with a newborn. The usual: we like Huaraches Moroleon, which is nearby, but also Farren’s in Champaign, as well as Maize, Golden Harbor, Ambar India, and Cravings (we eat off of the Malaysian menu mostly). Dancing Dog in Urbana has good vegan food. Incidentally, as a roadside attraction, the University’s Pollinator Museum is pretty great.

SP: What movie would you recommend to  watch and why?

Bert: Orlando– As much as I appreciate that Tilda Swinton’s slender white figure is not an entirely perfect queer archetype, the subconscious drift through a Eurocentric fantasy of immortal sexual sovereignty ignites something ecstatic in my fairy tale hippocampus. The book is great and more grim and perverse, but I like a movie that promotes experiences over narratives.

Katie: The League of Gentlemen was a fantastic dark BBC comedy show in which the four male actors in the ensemble played nearly all the roles, often in drag. It was set in a small town in the north of England, and the humor came from the kind of deranged speech and behavior associated with situations of extreme isolation. To some extent, then, it references horror movies like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Misery, the Shining, and Deliverance- in fact, cannibalism, kidnapping, and deviant sexual violence are central to some of the plot lines.

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