Halls of Cinema

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Halls of Cinema is a writing assignment that I give students of Intro to Film at Harper College in Palatine, IL. I ask them to submit a film that we should preserve for future generations and to keep an eye out for films that I may have overlooked for some reason or another.

These are the results from the Spring semester of 2016:

Shawshank Redemption – The Express – Pursuit of Happyness x 5500 Days of Summer – Bajo La Misma Luna – Little Rascals – The Watchmen – The Breakfast Club – Rocky – Mulholland Drive – Gladiator – Chronicle – Walk the Line – Detachment – The Natural – Bridesmaids – The Notebook – Scarface x 3 – Dante 01 – Hurt Locker – The Dark Knight – The Force Awakens – Office Space x 2 – Django: Unchained x 3 – The Bucket List – The Prestige – Focus – Toy Story – Standford Prison Experiment – American Sniper – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – Harold and Maude – Evil Dead 2 – Big Hero 6 – A New Hope – Moneyball – Million Dollar Baby – The Office (TV) – The Motivation – Avatar – Almost Famous – Tiny Times – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Pay it Forward – 2001: A Space Odyssey – A Goofy Movie – The Graduate x 2 – A Walk to Remember – Borat – Up – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – Cloverfield – Step Brothers – Chicken Run – Donnie Darko – It’s a Wonderful Life – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Not my best #dualworld but I’m happy to leave work while the sun is still up! – Via Instagram @Cinemar10

Entry that I hadn’t seen yet: I haven’t been brave enough to watch The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but this student pushed me to seek it out.

Entry that I want to rewatch: This student had some cool theories about how Donnie Darko plays out that left me wondering whether I’d really seen the film at all.

Biggest Surprise: What is it about this semester that made 5 students write about Pursuit of Happyness? There are also students that chose this film for their Final Presentation.

Bonus Shout Out: Harper College Film Club took Second Place in the Reel Illinois Film Competition for their video about Anne’s Resale Shop in Rolling Meadows.

Harper College Film Club – Via Instagram @Cinemar10

GERMINATE. Karen Azarnia. Her work and the curation of Radiance at Woman Made Gallery.

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Germinate is a new series of interviews that explore curation as an art form, with a focus on artists who incorporate curating into their creative practice. Karen is an exhibiting Chicago based artist who has curated and participated in relevant contemporary exhibitions in the Chicagoland area. I’ve known Karen for her wonderful paintings that walk the line between figuration and abstraction, but became interested in her curatorial practice through the Riverside Art Center, where she’s curated some amazing exhibitions, including “All In’.


Karen Azarnia

Karen Azarnia is an artist, curator and educator.  She received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited widely, with solo exhibitions at Terrain, Oak Park, IL; the Union League Club of Chicago, IL; and recent group exhibitions at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, NE; The Franklin, Chicago, IL; and Confort Station, Chicago, IL. She is a grant recipient from the Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and has been included in Hyperallergic, the Huffington Post and Newcity. She currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and serves as Director of Exhibitions at the Riverside Arts Center Freeark Gallery.

DG: Tell me about the new work you made for the show at Woman Made Gallery.

KA: For the Woman Made installation, I actually had two panels. I’ve been working on them in tandem, side by side. I’m really enjoying the scale of how large they are and how quickly I can execute them.

IMG_2939Karen’s studio at Mana Contemporary Chicago

“There is also the softness that has always been important in the work. It hits at this idea of memory too, and the way memory functions over time.”

DG: Would you keep them on the stretchers or do you want them to be more like loose fabric?

KA: I think they need to have this looseness, this notion of the movement. It changes, it shifts when they are tacked down; It kind of deadens them. There is this thing that happens with the translation of the figures as the pieces shift and if you get a little movement or a little wind and they flutter a little bit. There is this additional layer of confusion. A lot of people might think there is a real person behind it and that’s something I’m inviting. I want that confusion to take place; I think that’s interesting. People know it conceptually, but they have to do a double take, like “Oh wait wait, I have to check that and see if there is a person or not”. You know, this idea of looking and slowing people down for a moment to experience something like that.

There is this idea that we are all subject to the passage of time and change; it’s inevitable. These are a meditation on that. We all have connections to each other and as these fade in and out, it’s a metaphor for our larger experience. There is also the softness that has always been important in the work. It hits at this idea of memory too, and the way memory functions over time. Things come in and out of focus or shift. The narratives that we have for memories shift.

DG: What about the white?

KA: People always ask me about the white. It’s about light but also inter-related to light and memory, and these things are all interconnected for me. In the older work I’m half flirting with it. I’d spend all this time working with the figure, and then I’d be like, I’m just going to paint this with white…just a little. Then I had a break through moment where I just painted the whole, just went for it, and really obscured most of the painting. You can see the history if you look from the side. You can see some of the previous marks. It’s really pushed back. Now, I have this range of images where some are more legible, and some are more pushed back.

“it becomes about my relationship with that painting and about painting itself.”

DG: What about your sources?

KA: I’m working from my own photos. I, for the most part, don’t appropriate. For me the photo is the document that proves I was there, I witnessed and observed something that actually happened. That’s the starting point, and then I might sample, or go back to old photos when they become important to me. Then later, partly through the painting the photo gets put away and completely shelved, it becomes about my relationship with that painting and about painting itself.

DG: Do you specifically use photos that you’ve taken yourself? Not photos of which you were the subject?

KA: Yes, I take the photos myself and am usually not the subject. If I take a photo of something, it’s usually because…it’s so subjective. It’s something you relate to, something that grabs your interest, that maybe sparks a memory of something; and I might not even know it at the time. I was working on another painting, and I didn’t even realize until half way through that it was because something I remember from my childhood. Often, these unconscious connections happen.

DG: How do you approach photography in relation to social media? and how does that a relate to your painting?

KA: The images that these paintings are derived from, I would generally not post because there is a kind of a intimate privacy to them. I’m conscious about it because this image is something I would want to make a painting from.

I have a stash of thousands of photos, and it might not be until even years later that I’m like, Oh I remember when I took this… Where did that go? Or because something sparks or something becomes relevant much later. Sometimes it’s very immediate. I’m specifically thinking of this and going to take a photo or find something that would relate to that. Often they sit around for a very long time and I’ll wait until it’s the right moment to use that source. It can be because of an experience I’ve had or something I’m thinking about at that present moment. Or friends and family…so it’s based on experiences and what other people I know are going through. So there’s a social component and it ties back to the idea that everyone is connected. Social media, while it has it’s own issues, we are much more connected… well, yes and no. We project. I can watch my friend’s kids grow up on Facebook. I would not have that experience otherwise.
Just-There_finalBarely. Karen Azarnia. 2013

“I feel when I’m putting together a show, often times, it is like making a painting.”

DG: Let’s switch gears and talk about the show you curated at Woman Made Gallery. When I think about curators, their process is very much the same to the way you put together an art work.  It’s that instead of thinking about the paint, canvas, the colors, like you have all of these separate elements and you put them together into this thing; and as the curator, you are thinking about different pieces from different artists and finding a way to make them click together visually, or through the idea or theme for the show.

KA: I think that hits the nail on the head. I feel when I’m putting together a show, often times, it is like making a painting. You start with a notion, but then as you start to actually go in and make selections. You nail down curatorial choices or pieces, it’s like making a move on a painting. As you make more moves and more selections, you maybe edit and you refine until you get down to the very nitty-gritty and those last few little decisions in the gallery when you’re installing, like those last few marks that can always take forever in a painting. But then it all comes together and there’s this huge deal of satisfaction that comes out of that too.

10857088_942321699147679_5801332424957104909_oRadiance artist talk at Woman Made Gallery (courtesy of Woman Made Gallery)

“you are responsible to a viewer, you are responsible to the artists, to represent their vision.”

DG: It’s about the experience?

KA: Absolutely. Because you are responsible to a viewer, you are responsible to the artists, to represent their vision. You try to make each artist shine, if it’s a group show, and if it is a solo or a two-person exhibition, really conveying the notion of their practice and what they try to convey to they viewer. Also, a responsibility to the viewer for their experience in the show.


DG: So tell me about this show.

KA: The name of the show is Radiance. It’s at Woman Made Gallery and it’s up through August 20th. I was approached by the previous director, Claudine Isé, about perhaps coming and doing something at Woman Made. I was thinking about different themes that interest me and one was the basic idea of light. It’s a fairly large space, so I was thinking about how I’d want to fill that space and wanting an interesting collection of different approaches. Light is something that’s a little more broad in terms of thematic content, but it’s something that’s always been in my work whether I’ve foregrounded or not, so I thought that would be great.

Also, thinking about summertime and being bathed in light after we’ve been starving for it after going through the winter in Chicago. I thought it’d appropriate on multiple levels. And then there’s been some really interesting artists working with the medium currently and also exhibits.
Elmhurst Art Museum, Staci Boris curated SpotLight and up at the Riverside Arts Center we are going to have Paola Cabal open the season. She does gorgeous light installation work, very site specific by documenting the movement of light through space. I just thought this would be a kind of timely subject to deal with also.

IMG_3071Prism Inversion. Gina Hunt.

DG: What about the curating?

KA: I was trying to keep it broad to make it inclusive because you have a lot of different approaches. You have a much more historical traditional use of light, with painting and photography. Then you have the element of film, kicking forward to light as a medium itself with people using the very physical property of light. And of course others using a more conceptual approach to light.

IMG_3067Morpho. Ana Kunz

I generally don’t curate myself into a show. I usually don’t do that. But When Claudine (Ise) saw the time lapse video of the installation I did at Terrain the previous spring, she said, “Could you do something like that on our front window?”, so I said “OK, that would be really fun. I would enjoy doing that”. So that is how that came about.

DG: I’m sure you’ve got a huge selection to chose from. How did you go about narrowing it down?

KA: There was a ton of work. I’ve must of gone through something like 300 images. I was looking for artists with strong practices. And they did submit a statement with their work, so of course that helps to understand what they are trying to get at because some of the pieces are conceptually based. Also, finding interesting relationships between artists so there is dialogue and conversation between the pieces that can be provocative to the viewer.

This is probably the trickiest show I’ve ever done because I had to work with light based works that maybe project or that needed very specific lighting. That was very tricky. Sometimes you bump into physical constraints of the actual exhibition space and practical stuff like that.

IMG_3097Where do I begin? Cassandra Stadnicki (top). After Image. Lauren Sudbrink (bottom)

DG: The space is just another one of those elements you have to juggle for the show to be successful.

KA: It is. So, if you are talking about it as a kind of art piece. It becomes a site specific installation since it’s in response to the architecture. Trying not to overhang or underhang. Finding that balance. It was tricky but fun.

DG: Since you are using light based work, I’m sure some of the work was tricky to install because it needed special lighting. Where some of those artists there to help you install?

KA: Yeah. Some of the artists who had more specific instructions, like projections. Some came and we worked together to designate a spot and find the best location for it. Then I let them install and we kind of tweaked it, but others are more straight-forward like paintings. Some shows that I’ve curated, it’s completely site-specific-installation based, so just I hand over a key. There is really nothing I can do. I can assist or be there for support to provide whatever they need but it’s more about them and responding to the space versus a very straight-forward painting show like “All In” at Riverside Art Center. Art works gets delivered and I try to hang it to the best presentation of the pieces.

Check out  more images from the Radiance Exhibition at Woman Made Gallery.

A Stitch in Time – August 2013. Natalie, Dee, Jay and Em. #LoveWins

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A Stitch in Time

Surrealism and cultural distortion are a day-to-day occurrences now. I first noticed the world shifting around me in the Summer of 2012. The CG Project was beginning its second year. It was the beginning of an idea that would lead to my Dual World photo series.

It’s tough to remember how we survived it but I preserved some of the emotions we shared over the last few years through something I called Chain Corpse, a combination Chain Letter and Exquisite Corpse. It was a way for me to connect with people I respect about issues that plagued us all. I hope that you find some value in them now that some time has passed.

Today felt like the right day to end this series. The Supreme Court settled some long running debates on the Affordable Care Act and Gay Marriage. Love won over hate. Perhaps the most iconic image to capture the spirit of the moment comes in the form of a comic that shows the today’s victory in the context that may represent a restoration of sanity. No one knows how long it will last but the mainstream distancing itself from the confederate flag for the rainbow flag shows a major shift in American values. This could be the closure we’ve been looking for.

Love Wins

The post below is the conclusion to A Stitch in Time, which is a response to Linda, Jennifer and Camille is a response to Mario and Arlen, which were responses to Sandy’s, which was a response to Fielden’s, which was a response to Mario’s from June of 2012.

Natalie – August 4, 2013

“It’s time to stop using racism as the catch-all explanation for all that’s wrong with the world and just accept that some people are crazy assholes who shouldn’t be allowed to have guns.”

I’d like to address this specific quote:

I say it’s time for white people to stop being so afraid to confront racism and actually sit in the dirty, ugly, uncomfortable feelings it SHOULD give you. In all of my life as a person of color I have never “used” racism as tool to gain sympathy or to explain all the ills of the world. What I have done (and what I believe in my heart most people of color do) is speak the truth of MY reality. And as far as I’m concerned, no one can tell me that the experiences that I’ve had as a person of color are exaggerated or perhaps miscontrued due to an oversensitive nature when it

comes to race. I will never understand how a person can so casually dismiss, question, and ultimately negate another human being’s experience. Is it really so hard to listen? To perhaps try and understand how another human being may see the world through a very different lens?

And sadly, racism is one of the most troubling things about what is wrong with this world. It may not have an effect on the life of a white person on a daily basis, but for a person of color it is a part of your experience. Every. Single. Day. One of “privilege” of just so happening to be born white, is the gift of not having to think about race every day. It simply becomes an annoyance, a thing you want to push down and away so that you don’t have to think about all of the pain or anger or resentment or guilt or whatever you feel when a person of color uses “the race card.” And if I hear another person use that term (the race card) again I may run head first into a brick wall. Enough already. It’s just so dismissive and simple. Not speaking about racism doesn’t make it go away. As with any problem we have to deal with, not talking about it does absolutely nothing to solve it. It is still there, and often comes back later to bite us on the ass.

The Trayvon Martin story is one of those moments where the issue of race has been festering and has bubbled to the surface revealing that the stinking problem of racism is still there. The fact that black people have to live in a world that they see as not valuing their lives as much as a white person’s is not ok. I don’t want to live in that world and I will do everything in my power to change it into a place that values every human life. So, I say we need to talk more about race. Until it hurts. Until you can’t take it anymore. Until you feel it. Really feel it. And I will continue to speak to racism’s truth whenever and wherever I see it. I hope that you do too.

Dee – August 9, 2013


I’m black but I’ve never identified as black

The color of my skin told me that I was a part of a culture and history

I was never able to truly identify with

An Oreo cookie that has felt more like a Vanilla Wafer

Whites fear me cause I look black. Blacks alienate me because I act white


I saw a black boy accused of stealing what wasn’t his

The circumstantial evidence all pointed to him but no one knew for sure

I watched as they patted him down and searched every crevice of his bag

The color of my skin told me to sympathize with him. Guilty or not

But for every bag of weed they pulled out of his backpack

The more distant from him I felt

The more I felt like a white man accusing a black boy of a crime


In my mind I was fighting a stereo type

At the same time doing what I thought was right

I questioned whether I was objectively looking at the evidence presented

I questioned whether or not we questioned him because he was black and young

I questioned the color of my skin

Jay – August 18, 2013

When I began university, at the end of my first week I took an influential class that has stuck with me to this day: History of Film. That Friday morning the professor came in and before he began his lecture gave us a protracted personal appeal. He said that we were all in this class because we were fans of movies and wanted to make them. He paused and added, “that isn’t enough.” He said it wasn’t enough to see a bunch of films, or to even want to talk about them, or consider yourself a movie buff. He said we had to go beyond simply being a fan of film or having fun watching them. We had to ask questions about “how” it affected us and why.

I wrote that down in my little Mead notebook and carried it with me for years. That realization from that course stayed with me. Part of it is because I’m a person who tries to be thoughtful instead of impulsively acting on an emotion. But another large part is that through the years I’ve seen that some of my favorite filmmakers and critics create work that makes me think about philosophy, the world, life, my country, and myself. I’ve expanded that first bit of knowledge–why did you have that reaction?–and tried to apply it elsewhere. I’ve decided that as an artist, I’d create work that is about protagonists having emotional, social, or philosophical concerns or wants, and showing how they sit down and wrestle with important questions and conflicts as they act on them.

In the days, weeks, and months since the Trayvon Martin killing, trail, and decision, I’m finding I’m in a great minority on this. People have emotional reactions and opinions, but are just reacting by blabbing away, and not giving a thought to what they say, or post, or create as internet memes.  The case itself (and this reaction) gave me great concern about where our country and our world is heading. The “Stand Your Ground” law was an example of how corporate takeover of government has prevented the will of a people from living out their lives in a basic humanistic way.

When I listen to the 911 call, and hear a grown ass man bypassing logic, reason, and empathy from an operator who says, “We don’t need you to [follow the kid].” I get concerned. This is a man showing zeal, furor, and paranoia all because he’s seen a “suspicious” young black man. He’s put aside logic and is now thinking with that gun. He’s not thinking about “why” he had that reaction.

The police force and court system who dragged their feet on pressing charges on Zimmerman didn’t think about “why” they had that reaction. It took activists and organizers engaged on various issues, and a news media dedicated to trying to get facts to put pressure on even getting the question asked. And then the jurors in the trial–based on their own words–weren’t even trying to be Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, and trying to force the other jurors to question their assumptions. They decided to be thoughtless and carefree as they literally rushed to judgement. Only days later did one go forth on the news and say that she “probably” made a mistake.

That all shows what my professor told us about: having an emotional reaction. The way average movie goers do (and should). But some folks who should be doing more–having some thought into things–aren’t stepping up. And I’m getting a bit shocked.  Some reactions, even in this chain, haven’t given me much hope that we can have a meditative, contemplative, or thoughtful discussion or deliberation of these things.. Maybe I’m asking too much out of people. Maybe this is all too raw, and too soon, especially after the Amadou Diallos, Sean Bells, and Oscar Grants of the world. But at some point there needs to be some thoughtful exploration of, “Why?”

Why are people so quick to jump to defend a grown ass man who stalked, followed, and killed (all by his own admission), a kid almost half his age? Are you this in love with the Constitution and the set of laws that you’ll follow this logic down this rabbit hole? Appreciating a piece of paper or the life of a human being? Are you willing to admit that maybe just some of you have a hard time connecting with Trayvon and his right to “Stand His Ground” because he’s a young black kid?

Why is the reaction of “I don’t want to talk about this?” so strong and prevalent? Is there something wrong with having an opinion or an emotion on this case?

Why are some folks–in the white community and black alike–willing to point to tropes like, “Zimmerman wasn’t white” or “Black kids murder black kids in Chicago everyday!” as a be all and an end all when this comes up? Why is your emotional reaction to automatically remove yourself, your race, and your role as a citizen from this? What makes you think that solves the problem of a dead kid shot through the heart?

And why does your own history, baggage, or unresolved mental health problems with race worth bringing into this discussion? There’s a kid that’s dead, and again, we don’t want others like him popping up anytime soon. And if you’re an Obama or a ?uestlove and you think that sharing your stories with America (or White America) can provide a conduit and an entry point for people to realize that what happens to Trayvon happens every day, that’s fine. I commend you. But your own internal conflicts about the n-word, “cracker”, or not being black enough, or whatever, have NOTHING to do with what happened to this young man and what his family is going through.

What I learned in school stuck with me as I hear conversations, see Facebook posts, or watch the news now that we’re trying to have a nationally focused conversation on race. But just like that teacher told me about wanting to study film in order to make film: please know your shit, and ask a question or two about why you’re reacting before you decide to engage the rest of the world with your bitchy whining.

Em – August 18, 2013

Our history, baggage and unresolved mental health problems are the Why in this equation. The nuance of human existence exists in the grays, between impassioned, polarized prophets that are comfortable in the shade of their own skin. Many of us don’t have that privilege, so we swing like a pendulum.

“Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?” – George Carlin

When I hear Dee’s story, it sounds like my own. I grew up as a coconut even though I just learned the term a few years ago. Brown on the outside but white on the inside is how people saw me. Now that I know about this term, it isn’t one I wear with pride. I had a hard brown shell that held soft creamy meat, the most valuable part of a coconut. Once that part of me went rotten, I stopped hearing things like “You’re the whitest Mexican I know” or “Why do you wanna be white?”

“One of us. One of us.” – Freaks, 1932

That shell was just a cocoon though, armor to get me through the battle that is adolescence. Inside this Coco Loco was a hollow core with fluid swooshing around inside. I recognized the path that would lead to an easier life, but chose the uphill battle of self-identifying as a Chicano, or American with indigenous roots. I resigned my title of whitest Mexican for that of Hypersensitive Racist with a distorted view of reality. Folks walk on eggshells around me, for fear of saying something that will send me into a rant. I can turn a party into a classroom within seconds if someone pushes the wrong button.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” – Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

When my fuse does go off, it’s usually because someone’s point of view is being ignored or invalidated by “the truth.” My home lies outside the truth. My experiences of racial profiling need to be reviewed by each new jury before my race card is validated for the discussion. This goes double when judge considers that I could pass for Italian by hiding from my real name. Triple when my backwards hat and busted license plate light are submitted as evidence that I should expect to be questioned. The history I accept to be truth largely is due to being brainwashed with socialist propaganda. The injustices I witness in the world around me are all in my head. I live in a different America, I’m part of the 47% that sees themselves as victims and wants Big Government to solve all my problems.

“Opportunity looks a hell of a lot like hard work.” Chris Kutcher

What strikes me about Jay’s reaction to Dee is that it sounds like the responses I get when I step outside my echo chamber. As a brown man, I’m a tourist in their particular struggle but it looks, smells and sounds a hell of a lot like what’s happening on my side of the fence. The hard part is that we all have to listen to one another and search our own souls to arrive at where we’re headed. That’s the How, we heal one painful stitch at a time. With honey instead of vinegar.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I sent this entry to someone else who was gracious enough to respond, but before I post that mystery person’s piece of the puzzle, I’m giving you all a chance to respond to my piece. I’ll give you all this opportunity to contribute after each installment. Let see how this all plays out.

A Stitch in Time – Linda April / Jennifer & Camille July ’13

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A Stitch on Time

Surrealism and cultural distortion are a day-to-day occurrences now. I first noticed the world shifting around me in the Summer of 2012. The CG Project was beginning its second year. It was the beginning of an idea that would lead to my Dual World photo series.

It’s tough to remember how we survived it but I preserved some of the emotions we shared over the last few years through something I called Chain Corpse, a combination Chain Letter and Exquisite Corpse. It was a way for me to connect with people I respect about issues that plagued us all. I hope that you find some value in them now that some time has passed.

This exchange happened between the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and the acquittal of George Zimmerman over the shooting of Trayvon Martin. The former is an issue that was recently settled in the courts. The latter now feels like a tiny step in long walk up a mountain. As I write this paragraph, I’m keenly aware of just how jaded I’ve become in the last two years. Two days ago, a friend asked me what happened to Hope. I had none to give at the time but managed to find some it yesterday. Today I learned that a man shot up a church after sitting among the congregation for an hour. Lately, Hope is just enough to stand you up to be knocked back down.

This image was made for a print exchange called Atlas in 2013.
This image was made for a print exchange called Atlas in 2013.

The posts below is a response to Mario and Arlen, which were responses to Sandy’s, which was a response to Fielden’s, which was a response to Mario’s from June of 2012.

Linda – April 19, 2013
I love my wounded, egotistical, flawed and somewhat misguided country. To say I don’t would be lying and I work hard at not lying about life. I want to thank Tania Urzueta for posting something I felt strongly enough to comment on and then say outloud to no one at 11:26pm at the end of a week that included snow in April and a curiously moving tragedy closer to home than Boston.

I got home today, Friday, at 5:15 to find mom glued to CNN and their endless coverage of this latest urban tragedy. I wasn’t watching, I was sorting through mail and hearing her half hearted litany of the day as she would really rather watch fill in the blank correspondent sort through the facts one more time. I turned to watch for a moment only to see the correspondent’s head tilt to one side, then remove his earpiece as if to listen to the moment he was living in that reported back to him, a series of shots fired. Mom handed me the remote to turn up the volume. I went to cook dinner and listen in the next room from the now too loud television, to keep up.

After thirty minutes dinner was ready, but we were eating on our laps in the living room, glued to the ongoing coverage beginning with shots fired and ending so very long after, shots fired. I kept seeing that young face. A face like so many others I have seen so many times on my own city streets. There is nothing unusual, specific or curiously defensive about that face and yet, at this moment, that face represented the culmination of a week of the terror, concern and helplessness of a nation to do anything about it. At this moment, that face sat in a boat in a yard in a suburb of Boston.

I thought more about that face, especially once it had been captured–detained to the sounds of applause by the citizens of the city that had sheltered, supported and comforted that face and now suffered the reaction or response to some moment that triggered that face to action. I looked at that face and the face of his now deceased brother and wondered, where are the answers to my questions.

I realized, it is possible to look hard for answers in a scenario where there are none. I’m sad to think that we as a decisive culture need to package this moment as a solid story with a beginning, middle and an end. This is a story missing 2 of 3 of those parts. Especially in its clumsy process of delivery. These are boys, idealistic at best purposeful at their worst, cogs in a movement, pawns in a game where the rules were defined centuries before we even came into being.

So now what? I pray for juris prudence–for the process that includes Miranda, more than once if necessary.  I listen to my red white and blue mother willing the worst on a 19 year old conscious, telling me ‘he’s stepped outside of the boundaries of the law’ and me responding ‘no he broke the law and is allowed due process’ and believing this, no matter what.

I listen to the variety of reports that describe him as culturally removed from the American experience as he has no American friends because he does not understand them. Yet, culturally present and complete in his backwards cap, hoodie and skateboard.

I wake up to tomorrow and the day after, wondering about every person riding my train, standing in front of me at the Taco Bell, cheering on a niece, nephew or godchild at the local football game. Can I ever stop wondering about my Americans, today? Tomorrow?

And I lay in my bed and pray that we as conscious, functional, thinking individualists not jump to a pre defined conclusion about what just happened to our American world. That we seek answers to the hard questions we must ask ourselves about our role as world citizens. How can we make our American sane enough to endure any prospect of a rational future?

Jennifer – July 22, 2013
A week ago Saturday George Zimmerman was acquitted of criminal charges related to the death of Trayvon Martin. I was not surprised with the verdict but so many people were outraged. Surely this is the story of white vs black, they say.
I say this is the story of a macho-pissing match and it’s known to every race, color, and neighborhood.
Zimmerman was obviously a paranoid person. He lived in a gated community, participated in a neighborhood watch and had to carry a loaded gun because why? Has anyone tried to answer this? Apparently some homes had been broken into. Big deal. Who takes up arms to protect their Xbox? Zimmerman apparently. He’s the kind of guy who has to drive around late at night looking for the boogie man. Is this racist? No, it’s fucking crazy. If your mom did this she’d be put on valium. A guy does this and he’s in the neighborhood watch.
Ever since the verdict came down and the nation has erupted with anger with the race card in hand I’ve taken a look at the guys in my neighborhood. My neighborhood doesn’t have a gate though we do have a young man that looks like a skinny Glenn Danzig in bondage pants, a man that looks like an ogre, an old man with a wooden cross strapped to his bicycle, a Juggalo who collects scrap metal from the garbage and alleys, a couple of guys who walk everywhere because they’ve lost their licenses, and the hillbilly who lives off of energy drinks and filled in his front yard with mulch- the entire front yard. And there are the guys who are just walking around passing time before the homeless shelter opens for the night and the guys who are your average young adults who just stepped out to have a smoke.
Had anyone one of these guys been walking down Zimmerman’s street that night in February I’m pretty sure he would have said something. And I’m pretty sure more than a few of them would have been just as freaked out at Trayvon. And the one guy would have puffed out his chest and the other would have done the same and a punch and a blow and before you know it, boom. Someone who really wasn’t doing anything wrong is dead.
It wouldn’t have made the national news. It wouldn’t have been a racially motivated crime. There wouldn’t have even been a trial.
It’s time to stop using racism as the catch-all explanation for all that’s wrong with the world and just accept that some people are crazy assholes who shouldn’t be allowed to have guns.

Camille – July 27, 2013
Fear and False Equivalency:

In various articles and spaces human beings vociferously declare the killing of Trayvon Martin had nothing to do with race. The failure to arrest George Zimmerman after he admitted to killing a kid had nothing to do with race either. And finally, the acquittal of George Zimmerman after a long protracted battle resultant of efforts by his family and thousands of citizens across the U.S. had nothing to do with race. Instead we are asked to believe that Trayvon Martin deserved to die. There was something about him that made him look, seem, feel, threatening. “If I saw a strange looking guy in my neighborhood, I would have…”

My response to these people who work to convince themselves blackness had no role to play in the tragic death of a child is… “It’s okay.” If you don’t know how to talk about race… you don’t have to. If you are afraid to talk about blackness. You shouldn’t. To equate Trayvon Martin to some “strange dude” walking through your neighborhood means you’ve already bought into a racialized narrative that teaches Americans that black bodies are dangerous, and suspicious, and menacing. You’ve also bought into a narrative that convinces you that black kids aren’t “kids” at all. Many aspects we equate to children- curiosity, innocence, naiveté, they don’t apply, in your mind, to black kids. How surprising must it have been for Zimmerman to realize he’d killed a child armed with nothing more than a daily dose of sugar. “Armed” is how we must see him. Black bodies are always “armed” with something. A gun, a knife, a… something. We view the world through a racialized lens and we speak about it using racialized language. It’s okay if you didn’t know. We only use the word “semantics” when we’re being sarcastic and most never touch the word “semiotics.” But these things… are. Like fire and water they are elemental forces shaping the way we see the world. If you’re convinced blackness played no role in the death of Trayvon Martin it doesn’t mean you are confused. It means you’ve learned your lessons well.

How illogical to compare Trayvon to an odd man pushing a cart full of salvaged metal down the lane. It’s illogical because Trayvon was a middle-class kid, doing okay in school, with plans on attending college upon graduation. How does he, in one’s mind, become the equivalent of the salvaged metal guy? How much do we know about Trayvon? How much do you think you know? How do you know it? Who told it to you? What about him gives you the information you need to strip him of any characteristics of childhood and make him, strange? It’s okay if you don’t know how to talk about race. It’s okay if it makes you afraid. But most of all. It’s okay to say nothing so that your words don’t add to the wounds so deeply inflicted upon a family, a community, a country. Trayvon Martin was shot through the heart and lung at close range. The bullet ravaged his young body. He died in pain and fear. You may not have considered that. It may have escaped you that he felt tremendous pain as his life’s blood seeped out of his damaged body. Why is that? What about him made you forget?

Here’s where it gets interesting. I sent this entry to someone else who was gracious enough to respond, but before I post that mystery person’s piece of the puzzle, I’m giving you all a chance to respond to my piece. I’ll give you all this opportunity to contribute after each installment. Let see how this all plays out.

A Stitch in Time – Arlen Dec ’12 / Mario Apr ’13

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Chicago went through a whirlwind this week. Many poured their hearts into the Chuy Garcia campaign but money won over people. I’m proud to say that I believed in the cause and was heartbroken by the loss. Smaller victories happened around the city and Ferguson changed the face of their city council but… Still hurts.

People forget that Rocky lost his first bout against Apollo Creed. @Cinemar10
People forget that Rocky lost his first bout against Apollo Creed. @Cinemar10

A Stitch on Time

Surrealism and cultural distortion are a day-to-day occurrences now. I first noticed the world shifting around me in the Summer of 2012. The CG Project was beginning its second year. It was the beginning of an idea that would lead to my Dual World photo series.

It’s tough to remember how we survived it but I preserved some of the emotions we shared over the last few years through something I called Chain Corpse, a combination Chain Letter and Exquisite Corpse. It was a way for me to connect with people I respect about issues that plagued us all. I hope that you find some value in them now that some time has passed.

Arlen shares his ideas to end gun violence in Chicago in the first entry. The second entry came from me after tragic events in Boston had me looking for comfort. I hope our voices from the past can clear our hearts and prepare us for the next step. Whatever it may be.

This image was made for a print exchange called Atlas in 2013.
This image was made for a print exchange called Atlas in 2013.

The posts below is a response to Sandy’s, which was a response to Fielden’s, which was a response to Mario’s from June of 2012.

Arlen – December 2012

I don’t know how much I blame the media though. I mean, sure, they’re going to sensationalize things but it’s pretty sensational stuff. It’s not every day that this happens. Though plenty of other people do die every day from gun violence in the US, and the equivalent of a Sandy Hook massacre happens every 18 hours.

Too often those numbers come from here in Chicago. Violent crime in general has been decreasing but for the first time in five years the homicide rate actually went up in Chicago this year. Perhaps in part due to the Supreme Court striking down the city’s handgun ban, and the recent appeals court ruling against a concealed weapons ban.

Here in Chicago I think there are several things that would help curb violence. And, spoiler alert, none of them involve more guns on the street (the last thing you think of when you live in this city is “gee, I wish I just had a Glock so I could return fire”). In no particular order, here are three ideas:

1. Let’s impose an extreme tax on bullets bought within Cook County and the surrounding counties, say within a 100 mile range. Like a 500% tax. This would not affect people who hunt in rural areas, nor would it affect those who have weapons for self-defense. Since guns are often illegally sold or distributed but bullets rarely are (because they can’t be used more than once), this might have some positive effect. We can treat this like any other sin tax. And while we’re at it, increase taxes on guns proportionally to how many of that gun is seized by police officers after being used in crimes. In other words, taxes would likely not be increased on hunting rifles, but would be increased on sales of handguns and similar weapons. The tax rate on guns can be recalculated every six months based on updated statistics.

2. Let’s use the funds raised by the new bullet and gun taxes to fund after school programs and other violence prevention efforts. This would be a smart investment. There’s a reason why doctors say every dollar spent on preventative care saves ten dollars in treating preventable illnesses. The violence in Chicago is by and large not the result of mental health issues as has been mentioned so much after Sandy Hook and other recent mass-shootings, but more the result of young people with few opportunities having nothing else to do but join a gang.

Let’s revamp the local justice system to more adequately deal with those who are arrested for gun crimes in the city. Recidivism rates among gang members are alarmingly high and higher than among non-gang members. We need to prevent prison from becoming a breeding ground for gangs. Perhaps we need to think about prison sentencing differently, not releasing gang members based strictly on a sentence given at the time of the crime, but more on the basis of their progress in rehabilitation. This could be done legally by giving offenders extremely strict initial sentencing but establishing a clear framework for accelerated release and giving parole boards more discretion to release inmates earlier based on their progress (this already exists to some degree but a system could be formalized and standardized). Essentially, we need to give inmates a clear path to early release based on progress, giving them an incentive to better themselves and prepare to become productive members of society. Perhaps a point-based system could be implemented. Also, when ex-offenders are released, they should be released with some immediate opportunities for work, perhaps after a work-release program. This will require a close private-public cooperation. It’s clear though that people who are released from prison with no economic opportunities, or worse, even less economic opportunities than they had before going into prison due to their new status as an ex-offender, is a recipe for disaster and recidivism.

Mario – April 15, 2013

Have we grown callous? I hope I’m not learning to cope with tragedy. Five months removed from Sandy Hook and we’ve done little to curb violence. We can hardly agree on what happened that day, let alone something we could have done to prevent it. Even though it was confirmed that the assailant left ten round clips at home, opting instead for multiple thirty round clips that he used to fire hundreds of rounds into 26 innocent victims. Yet we can’t agree that limiting clips to 9, 10 or even 12 rounds could save some lives. Can we even agree on universal background checks?

‘Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,’ – Michelle Obama

Locally, the shooting of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago youth that was shot a week after playing in her high school marching band at President Obama’s inauguration. She’s one of many children that we’ve lost to gun violence this year but people will remember her name. Michelle Obama spoke about her at an event last week, saying that it could have been her as a teenager. Chicago’s answer? Shut down 54 Chicago Public Schools, shake things up and see what happens.

‘Look for the helpers’ – Fred Rogers

We know little about what happened today in Boston but it was yet another wake up call. This time we weren’t caught completely off guard. Graphics packages are ready to go, we all know the drill now. Social media breaks the story, video clips get shorter and shorter until they become GIFs, tiny clips that repeat indefinitely for us to let the toxic images etch themselves deeper into our brains. For something visceral, you need video shot on a cellphone or at least by someone that can’t process what is in front of them and control the camera at the same time. Voyeuristic clips like these spread with the ferocity of a ball bearing tearing through flesh. Information Gatekeepers filter the interviews and sound bytes into a narrative that will confirm all your suspicions about the Boogey Man himself.

‘Say there ain’t no hope for the youth, truth is it ain’t no hope for the future.’ – Tupac Shakur

How do any of us live with this? If I’m struggling to handle this, what hope is there for an isolated teen, alone in a basement with a broadband IV to the worst humanity has to offer… and that’s without even considering the vitriol on the message boards. What are we to do?

Here’s where it gets interesting. I sent this entry to someone else who was gracious enough to respond, but before I post that mystery person’s piece of the puzzle, I’m giving you all a chance to respond to my piece. I’ll give you all this opportunity to contribute after each installment. Let see how this all plays out.