“At once it became the rendezvous of leading labor organizers and leaders, of radical artists too often coarse and ribald, of modern poets often equally unrefined and gross, of rising literary personages and revolutionists. …It opened its doors wide to everybody who had a message, a grievance, a hope, or a criticism – constructive or destructive; to anyone who wished to raise his voice against oppression, prejudice, and injustice in all their forms. To every guest was put the question,’Are you a nut about anything?’”
-Rev. Frank O. Beck on Chicago’s forgotten ‘Dil Pickle Club’ (1914~1933)
“Let us admit that we have attended parties where for one brief night a republic of gratified desires was attained. Shall we not confess that the politics of that night have more reality and force for us than those of, say, the entire U.S. Government? Some of the ‘parties’ we’ve mentioned lasted for two or three years. Is this something worth imagining, worth fighting for? Let us study invisibility, webworking, psychic nomadism–and who knows what we might attain?”
-Hakim Bey, the Temporary Autonomous Zone, 1990
What happens when a few activists, sandwich makers, artists, furniture movers, new media makers, a carpenter, balloon animal artists, and experimental musicians open a live-in gallery and share their home with a number of underground communities? Buddy.
We rented the second-floor loft space next door to Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park in early summer of 2002 with a seed of a game plan and not much else. Loosely-defined, our goal was to share the space with those who felt a sense of disaffiliation, revolt, and disgust with the current political and cultural atmosphere in the days of Bush, corporate globalization, and Mayor Daley’s surveillance city. We hoped to provide noncommercial alternatives to common cultural gathering spots like bars, coffee shops, bookstores and commercial galleries–places where communities today typically form and locate themselves. We wanted a casual yet committed attitude towards promoting cultural and political endeavors in which we were interested, invested, or aligned. And we wanted none of the stodgy, stick-up-the-ass political correctness that a lot of this description implies. It had to be fun.
It may seem naïve to have believed that by opening a new cultural and social space in the center of Wicker Park we could stem the tide of monoculture and rejuvenate an area in the death throes of gentrification and its attendant commercial forces. But we tried. We became so successful in activating and providing an alternative to Culture-As-Usual that we occasionally alienated ourselves from our own audience and really pissed off our landlord. When our three-year lease was up, it didn’t get renewed.
We hoped the fusion of art and activism would transform people — socially and intellectually — through installations, performances, happenings, and events. This included many kinds of gatherings: collaborative anti-globalization protest activities, symposia on art and politics, exhibitions, lectures and workshops, film screenings, experimental and improvisational live music, D.I.Y. fashion shows, festivals like Select Media and the annual spring Version convergence, pirate radio, stencil and street art demonstrations, dance parties, fundraisers, and the kind of informal and accidental encounters or happenings that can only arise at 3am, including make-out sessions. In the course of these three years, Buddy has hosted over 250 events and happenings.
Like most endeavors of this nature, we tried to provide ultimate freedom in providing space and resources for various communities connected with the original founders and their social, personal, activist, and professional networks. In turn, these networks expanded to facilitate the operational, resource, and distribution needs of hundreds, if not thousands, of artists, activists, and cultural workers of all kinds–not only here in Chicago, but eventually across the US and around the world. And it also got us into a bunch of trouble with the Chicago Police Department. The very first inhabitants included Eric Ringbloom (Ringo, and shortly thereafter his then-girlfriend Jackie Kilmer), Daniel Pope, Jeff Creath, Caton Volk and Ed Marszewski–the latter three held the lease. We divided the 2,800-square-foot space into two small bedrooms, a large workspace, two offices, and a 1,500-square-foot gallery.
We went through personnel changes faster than a Taco Bell. As people moved in and out of Buddy anything from an office to a utility closet would become a bedroom, but the public space pretty much stayed the same. Daniel, Caton, and Jackie moved out and over time Grant Brownyard, Stephany Colunga, Joe Proulx, David Shuey, Hunter Husar, Katie Urcioli, Josh Johannpeter, Dave Pecoraro (Rotten Milk), Marc Arcuri, Matt Malooly, and Alan Kraus (Party Steve) moved in. Ringo, meanwhile, held the fort down for nearly the entire three years of Buddy s existence as the go-to man for any repair or equipment breakdown. Other people who contributed much time and energy to the space and did not “live” there included Dakota Brown, Elisa Harkins, Logan Bay, and Joel Bruner. Each new person introduced another wave of interests, skills, projects, and friends to share with the Buddy “collective”.
It was this constant proximity to a high concentration of creative and active people that enabled Buddy to provide such a diverse and powerful facility on a shoestring budget. As a nexus point for countercultures ranging from anti-war activism to noise music improvisation to late-night dance parties to bike repair workshops, Buddy became a place where participants, visitors, and residents could create temporary autonomous zones outside any commercial or institutional restraints. Buddy catalyzed moments of realization that cultural revolution was not only possible, it was already happening. And if we kept at it we could continue to help activate disparate scenes in the service of this little utopian goal.
Lumpen magazine called Buddy home, and the space naturally became the backbone for various activities related to the magazine and the projects around it (Select Media Festival, Version, Select dvdsamizdat, the tlvsn series on CAN-TV). Buddy helped organize seven different major festivals over the past three years, showcasing the work of hundreds of artists from at least a dozen different countries. Buddy would serve as a hub for the presentation of festival programming over between one and three week periods of time, with the residents acting as producers and curators of events around the city.
Over time, the space fostered an autonomy distant from the sort of institutional partnerships widely considered mandatory for events of such scale. Instead of partnering with the MCA, the city government, or other institutions, we expanded the operations of our festivals by collaborating with our immediate neighbors (Heaven Gallery and upstairs neighbor High School) as well as culturally similar spaces across the city (Camp Gay, Open End, Polvo, Spare Room, Texas, Bruner and Bay, Diamonds, etc.). As the network of artist-run and collectively-run spaces in Chicago increased, so did the programming and reach of the festivals to other communities. Over time, we began to see this informal network become the gray matter between commercial and institutional art milieus within the city of Chicago.
As word spread across the land, Buddy became a haven for traveling dissidents, countercultural nomads, and lumpens of all stripes. (Buddy masqueraded as a gallery, though often it better resembled a crash pad for art-damaged libertines.) Through these visitors we came to realize the work we are engaged in here is reflected in cities all over the planet. This constant flow of kindred spirits enabled us to establish networks across the globe, exchanging programming and materials with different groups, spaces, festivals and artists.
Buddy became a perpetual center of personal education in all forms of emerging cultures, artistic practice, political strategy, and everyday skills. It became a fountainhead of inspiration in all the work we do individually, while collaborations with friends and lovers made at Buddy have become some of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of our lives. And it is by fostering such an environment, wherever we may live, that we hope to continue providing tactical and strategic resources for communities within and outside of Chicago.