Shawn Lucas on his FLAK Performance Series

CACOPHONY: What is Flak, and when did it start?

March 2016 - Composer performer Eliza Brown performs her work, cellopiece. Photo by Tyler Sullivan

March 2016 - Composer performer Eliza Brown performs her work, cellopiece. Photo by Tyler Sullivan

Shawn Lucas: Flak is a performance art series held at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. The show is dedicated to producing shows with experimental artists based in Chicago.  Our first show was in the Fall of 2014 and we have produced 11 unique programs with around 25 different artists thus far.

What was the impetus for starting it?

The roots of Flak are based in my own curiosity about what other working artists are making.  As a composer, I initially became interested in performance art because I wanted to see how my ideas about sound and music related to other performance mediums.  Looking back, I think I wanted to know if I could be as interested in other art forms as I am in music. I was really looking for something new (to me) in the art scene in Chicago.

 How does it connect with your own work as a composer? As a performer? A performance maker? A visual artist?

My own artistic efforts are all geared toward creating work that is built from a synthesis of the different mediums I work with (primarily visuals, lighting/shadow, and sound/music).  Almost every artist who shows their work in the series has a similar interest, only supplanting and permutating various mediums, genres, styles, personal ideologies.  I believe the artists I seek out to create for the series are struggling with the same things I am,  I like to believe our mutual exposure can offer a great deal of personal insight.  Not to mention it feels great to provide a space for artists who are constantly seeking a venue to showcase their work.

April 2015 - Nick Meryhew performing within a dark scene of sculptures and a large headdress made of wood and glass (artwork by Shawn Lucas).  

April 2015 - Nick Meryhew performing within a dark scene of sculptures and a large headdress made of wood and glass (artwork by Shawn Lucas).  

Did you start out curating other artists, or was that something that happened more slowly?

It happened gradually. The series began with shows that I conceptualized, featuring other musicians in performance roles.  In those days I acted more as a composer than a curator.  The early shows involved a mix of my own original work, improvisation, prerecorded sounds, and composed pieces by other composers.  It wasn’t until the fifth show that I invited two other artists to showcase their pieces, which has been the model of Flak ever since.

What are some ways that you curate flak programs? Are you thinking about being interdisciplinary? Inter-communal?

Definitely inter-communal would be the most accurate description.  The artists who participate are typically working in various media and genres, however the work they present in a show may not necessarily be itself “interdisciplinary.”  The programs are sometimes very intentionally curated, where each piece has a deliberate relationship with the others, but other times I like putting together a group of artists to see how their work can be juxtaposed.  The latter has often yielded really incredible and unexpected results.  

How do you reach out to other communities of artists, and have you ever found that difficult?

It can be difficult.  Using the internet to research and find emails is a reliable resource that has gained a few fruitful relationships, I cold email quite a bit.  But my primary resource is through my network, I have met most of the artists through attending shows and through the artists I am connected with already.  This is a great question because I am constantly thinking about how to connect with new artists.

November 2014 - A set of wooden sculptures and lighting by Shawn Lucas.

November 2014 - A set of wooden sculptures and lighting by Shawn Lucas.

Tell me about your relationship with intuit.

I love Intuit.  It’s a very special place for me, the staff has always been extremely supportive of the series by not only providing a space but also by staffing for the shows.  I have a close relationship to the museum these days, I volunteer for their events, participate in committees for Intuit’s annual Spring fundraisers, and I even help clean and repaint.  I always make an effort to balance the scales and make it a fair and prosperous relationship.  The staff at Intuit are the most wonderful administrators I could hope to work with.

Is there a relationship between outsider art and the programs that you curate?

Currently there has not been an explicit outsider art connection in the show.  However Flak always provides a way to get people into the museum who have not been exposed to outsider art.

 November 2014 -  Percussionist Ryan Packard improvises

 November 2014 -  Percussionist Ryan Packard improvises

Tell me about the upcoming program. What excites you about it? Have you worked with any of these people before? How involved were you in the process of the works that they are presenting?

So the lineup for the May 26th concert is: Owen Davis, Ellen McSweeney & Sam Scranton, and Renee Baker.  One of the aspects I like about this show is all of these artists work in new music and are formally trained musicians, but they all have unique vehicles to present their work.  For example: Renee is doing a piece using several movement artists, visuals, and sound; Ellen and Sam are a duo that collaborate to create improvised and non-notated pieces using a variety of instruments; and Owen is exploring noise as a solo act.  I like programming these types of shows because they will all bring their own energy and characteristics but also display high functioning and important parts of the performing art scene in Chicago.   All of the artists presenting in the upcoming program are new to the series, which is always exciting.  In fact, I have made it a point to feature almost all new artists on every show this season.  And I have zero involvement with the creations of the pieces.  They are all working independently.