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Inside AREA Chicago

A School of the Art Institute alum and a grad student examine important issues in the city and take action in this Chicago-based publication.

by Eileen Jeng

Daniel Tucker, editor and SAIC alumnus; Dakota Brown, designer/contributing editor and SAIC grad student; and Jim Duignan, editorial advisor, head up the biannual magazine, Area. Started last summer, “it is dedicated to researching, networking, [and documenting] art, education, and activist practices within Chicago, as described on their website, “It is a shared space to fuel, debate, refine, express and implement our collective goals for a more desirable and liveable Chicago and world.”

Tucker explained that Area started a few years ago with a conversation between him and Duignan of the Stockman Institute, “an event-based organization,” which “also does curatorial work.” At a time when a lot of anti-war work and larger cultural events were occurring, “they had a similar approach to look at the groups and spaces in Chicago, and how they look at each other,” said Tucker. “Different spaces in Chicago could be used for different events.” Tucker asked, “How can we strengthen and support what’s already out there?”

The projects and initiatives can be pretty open-ended. Tucker emphasizes, “The most strict aspect of the framework [is that it is] Chicago-based. There have been 75 contributors over the first three issues and only three of them from outside of Chicago.” For contributing writers, “the publication serves as an auto self-history. They are engaged in the city either writing about their own work [or others']. They seek out groups that they have heard about and reach out in this social network, explains Tucker. “People not involved with publication talk about their practice and get to know each other,” adds Brown.

The advisory board of 13 people has the task of keeping the topics relevant and people interested in the projects on a citywide scale. They help plan groups and events and help circulate [the publication] and proposals of different issues in Chicago. People use their personal contacts to build more contacts, and Area’s network expands. Area does not advertise in other publications; it seems like it’s all about who you know and get to know, and it works.

Each issue has a different theme and raises questions about the city. Issue #1 came out in summer/fall of 2005 and was about privatization, local cuts, and service changes. Issue #2 was about the local food systems in Chicago. There was a call for submissions to Chicagoans to draw on a map of Chicago their interpretations of the sites that are significant to them. Topics included political struggles, cultural spaces, public spaces, and personal histories. The people’s atlas of Chicago was included in Issue #3, which was about solidarity. “One elementary/middle school teacher sent a map about environmental racism. It was sent to Polvo Gallery to be exhibited,” says Brown.

“Issue #4 will be about ‘no justice, no peace,’” says Tucker. “It is a broad theme about community-just artists, activities in the city, and how they treat the idea of criminal justice. How do they define and use the concept of justice in their projects? They blur the lines of justice. What is your meaning when you say justice?”

Tucker also plans to work with a publisher to do one book a year. This will be a nationally and internationally distributed publication. He would also like to increase the scope of Area’s content and contributions.

As part of the infrastructure lectures series next fall, Chicagoans can learn from groups and projects outside Chicago. The lecture will address issues such as “The way non-institutional projects talk about longevity, and what happens when a small organization starts to make decisions to increase size. Nato Thompson, curator of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, will talk about the cultural/sub-cultural network, and how small galleries and cultural venue spaces should have stronger network in cities, in the touring circuit.” Another speaker will be a hacker from Basque country, Spain, who will talk about tech support and overall movements across parts of Europe. He will question, “’How do you use this idea in Chicago? How would you develop your own infrastructure in Chicago?’” according to Tucker. We will just have to wait to find out the answers.


Tucker says, about his involvement in politics and art, “I had liberal-leaning, social worker parents. I was a kid in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and at an early age, I looked at the globalized world and the uneven distribution of power. [I was] exposed to the thread of conversation. After the globalization of people around the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, it blew open what protest could look like.” It was this time that Tucker moved to Chicago. In April 2001, he got involved with organizations, such the Department of Space and Land Reclamation, which was reclaiming the land and visual culture of Chicago for people to live, work and play. It was a space where counter-globalization, anti-war, [housing, gentrification] and public space issues could intersect.”

Brown works with the conceptual development of issues. When Issue #1 came out last fall, Brown enrolled as an SAIC grad student in the Visual and Critical Studies Department. He thinks about Area’s relationship between editorial and design. I asked Brown, “How will your education at SAIC contribute to the development of the publication?” He said, “Once the format of the paper is more established, I would like to do more writing. Perhaps develop a recurring item, a special issue, or a local magazine contest in Chicago.” Prior to his work with Area, Brown worked with Lumpen, an independently produced publication, about emerging counter-culture in Chicago.