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Metal, Machines, Music 

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Metal, Machines, Music

Build it and they will come, or so they say, but while that might be true for condominium complexes and the occasional baseball field, it doesn't necessarily hold for what local artist and computer whiz Robert Ray calls "electromechanical art"--a loose genre that includes elaborate, unwieldy machines-cum-art objects, art involving computer interfaces, and video and sound interactions.

Perhaps the most successful example of what he's talking about is the military-industrial-complex satire of the Bay Area's Survival Research Laboratories, but this kind of work has become increasingly common with the emergence of artists who've been raised on high technology. Yet the current gallery system doesn't provide much of a forum for it to be seen, much less sold, says 25-year-old Ray, who will open one such forum--a multimedia space called Deadtech--this Sunday in a Logan Square loft. The kickoff party features performances by Japanese sound artist and guitarist KK Null (best known in these parts as leader of the aural horror show Zeni Geva), New Jersey guitarist-electronicist Damian Catera, and Oakland instrument inventor Jalopaz (who'll play something called a Dagochopper), plus video by Australian artist Seldon Hunt, who's also done cover art for Null.

Ray, a Florida native with a degree in sculpture from Northeastern Illinois University, played in punk bands in high school and college, and says he was strongly influenced by the hypermoral D.C. label Dischord. Now he wants to spread the DIY aesthetic in the art world--including the dislike of class distinctions and the honor-system economics that have been the ideals, if not the practice, of indie music culture for the last 20 years. According to Ray's business plan, no prices will be listed for artworks shown; potential buyers will negotiate with the artists directly. "I wouldn't be comfortable with selling to a stranger. I'm nobody's broker," he says. "Speaking as an artist, if someone wants to buy a piece and I don't want it to go to that person, I should be able to say no."

If a sale is made, the artist will be expected to donate to the gallery what he or she thinks Ray's contribution was worth in terms of exposure and promotion. Ray says he figures that keeping a show up for a month costs about $500, not including the rent on the loft. His only countermeasure against an artist who doesn't pony up out of his own sense of fairness is his power to say, "Well, that artist would never show here again." Considering that there are very few galleries devoted to this genre of work in the world--and certainly no others in Chicago--he considers this sufficient. "It keeps me honest and it keeps them honest too," he says. "I definitely have a standard that I adhere to, and I want to work with people who have that same standard."

Ray doesn't expect Deadtech to make money, or even to break even, but "luckily, I'm a big computer geek," so it doesn't have to. He lives modestly in a small section of the loft (which is rather raw, a work in progress), his clothes hanging from wires strung along one wall, and he's paying for initial promotion and the opening with income from his day job as technical services director of a downtown marketing firm. Future plans include a workshop space where artists can come and use computer equipment, shop machines, and soldering and welding gear and hang out with other artists. He also plans to keep the gallery open as much as possible. "All the galleries close at five--what's that about?" he says. "There are evenings where I'd like to have dinner and then not see a movie or a band but go see art."

Around the time Ray decided on the name for his gallery, he found out it was also the title of a compilation of Japanese underground bands that Null had produced in 1984. When Ray got in touch with Null to ask permission to use the name, Null agreed, and then expressed interest in supporting the project. He happened to be coming to Chicago anyway--on Saturday night he'll perform a relatively traditional set at the Fireside Bowl on a bill with Catera, Xome, and Illusion of Safety. His gallery gig will involve ambient soundscapes made mostly with a patch cord that's plugged into an amplifier and effects on one end but not to a guitar on the other, plus "experiments with shifting perceptions based on spatial relations of audience to speaker placement."

Deadtech is at 3321 W. Fullerton, 773-395-2844. Admission to the show, which starts at 9 PM, is $5; the money will be divided among the artists, who will decide how much to give back to Ray.

Peter Margasak is on vacation.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Machnik.

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