Magritte the Writer: Kathleen Rooney on Hyperallergic

In the last week of November, Sector 2337 is posting interviews and articles with artists who are contributing to our Dec 2nd fundraiser, New Age Now. Chicago-based writer, Kathleen Rooney will contribute to the curated, artist-made menu of transcendental delights with her SAMADHI POD DATES. When describing her inspiration for the dish, she wrote, “This past quarter, the Writing the Body creative writing workshop that I teach at DePaul got to experience one-hour-long floats in sensory deprivation tanks thanks to a collaboration between one of my students and the owner of Float Sixty in River North. I chose the most restrictive option of all, the classic Samadhi tank. These dates—with their small but dense pod-like shapes—suggest that container for producing altered consciousness.” Rooney’s Samadhi Pod Dates will be served between 7-10pm on Dec 2nd, alongside additional New Age creations  by Brandon Alvendia, Jessica Campbell, Rebecca Mir Grady, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Alyssa Martinez, Eric May, Midnight Kitchen Projects, and Edra Soto.

The following excerpted interview with Rooney and Cassandra Balzer was originally published on Hyperallergic.

Magritte the Writer

Kathleen Rooney’s most recent project, René Magritte: Selected Writings, co-edited with Eric Plattner, is somewhat out of the ordinary for this Chicago-based writer. This book offers English speakers a chance to dive into the life of René Magritte, the lauded Belgian surrealist painter.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of several books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the forthcoming novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. However, Rooney’s most recent project, René Magritte: Selected Writings, co-edited with Eric Plattner, is somewhat out of the ordinary for this Chicago-based writer. This book offers English speakers a chance to dive into the life of René Magritte, the lauded Belgian surrealist painter. It includes more than a few personal letters and journals; the artist, unbeknownst to many of his fans, was a prolific writer, composing manifestos, prose poems, and even a few film scripts over the course of his lifetime. Rooney’s book provides an intimate glimpse into the artist’s mind while establishing his talent as a writer.

I spoke with Rooney via email about this project’s unexpected genesis, her relationship with Magritte, and the inquisitive, genre-bending nature of the artist’s writing.

Cassandra Balzer: Your bibliography is impressively expansive; you’ve experienced everything from novel-writing to a crazed jaunt into the world of literary remixes. What specifically was your role in the forthcoming project, and how does it compare to your previous work? What catalyzed your interest in assuming the role of editor rather than taking a more creative approach?

Kathleen Rooney: Thanks! I think that the key to my expansive bibliography in general and this project in particular is that one of my favorite emotions is curiosity — I’m super-curious about a lot of things, and I love a good mystery. The origins of this project go back about two years, to late July of 2014 when I sort of accidentally stumbled on this long-lost manuscript. To be honest, it’s still kind of nuts to me that I — who have no academic background in art history (though I did work for years as a figure model) — have ended up helping to bring this book into the world. That summer, my friend and DePaul University colleague Eric Plattner and I went to the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 show of Magritte’s work hosted by the Art Institute [of Chicago]. I’ve loved Magritte’s work ever since I was a kid, and I thought the show — which only came to the AIC, MoMA, and the Menil Collection in Houston — was excellent. As Eric and I went through, I was struck by the outstanding quality of the wall texts accompanying the paintings. Partway through the exhibit, it occurred to me that the texts were so well-done because they were excerpts of Magritte’s own writing.

As they funneled us out through the gift shop, I planned to buy a copy of his book. To my dismay, it wasn’t there. Through a lot of online and international detective work, I discovered that an English translation of Magritte’s writings had been commissioned and scheduled for publication in 1987 through John Calder’s Riverrun Press, but the publisher folded and the project never saw the light of day. So weirdly, a fully translated (albeit rough and typewritten) manuscript of Magritte’s Selected Writings by the now-dead translator Jo Levy had been languishing in an archive in Caen, France for close to 30 years, unbeknownst to just about anyone. Owing to the help of the librarian there, Alma Books (which held the rights to Riverrun’s catalogue) in the UK, and University of Minnesota Press here in the States, not to mention my phenomenal co-editor Eric, that manuscript is now a book, available to Magritte fans in English for the first time.

As for a more creative approach, the two-ish years that I ended up spending working with Eric to prepare this manuscript for publication did inspire me to take a creative angle on the material as well. I got to know Magritte and his household so deeply as I was reading his writing and working on my introduction, and that inspired me to write a novel-in-flash-fictions / prose poems told partly from the perspective of his wife, Georgette, and partly from the perspective of their series of beloved Pomeranian dogs, all called Loulou. It’s called The Listening Room.

CB: Why Magritte? As previously mentioned, his writing has never been published in English. What can fans of the artist expect from this publication?

KR: Magritte because, like I said, I’m a big fan and he’s the Belgian surrealist whose work I serendipitously happened upon (thanks to Eric’s Art Institute membership). It was like finding a Picasso at a yard sale or something, like “Can no one else have gotten to this before now?”

Fans can expect a witty, opinionated, and mysterious look into the mind of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. I say in my intro that Magritte is essentially a writer’s painter, so it probably isn’t surprising that his written output is so delightful. There are manifestos, prose poems, flash fictions, detective stories, interviews, reviews, polemics and all kinds of hard-to-classify texts (even film scripts!) in here, and it’s the kind of book that is rewarding to read both straight through and in small leaps in and out.

CB: Aside from the artist in question, what about this project drew you in?

KR: Aside from not having a background in art history, I do know good writing when I see it, and I found it incredibly galling that this stuff was not more widely available in English. Magritte is a great painter — that is well understood. But the more I read the writing itself, the more I realized what a wonderful writer he is as well. Reading the book, of course, gives you a great deal of insight into his work and creative process, but even people who are not fans of Magritte will find a lot to admire here just in terms of literary quality. Both Alma and University of Minnesota initially discussed with us whether we thought illustrations or images were needed, and we concluded that they were not because this work is so capable of standing totally on its own.

CB: I think that’s an interesting and important decision. In choosing to not include his visual artwork, you’re almost forcing the reader to acknowledge his prowess as a writer.

KR: Exactly. Or if not to force, then at least to encourage them to seriously consider his prowess as a writer. It also gives the reader a choose-your-own-adventure option in terms of how they want to engage with the book. They could choose to read it as-is, totally sans images, and have a rewarding experience that way. Or they could open up their browser to Google “image search” and choose to look up images as needed every time a painting gets mentioned, or simply when they’re curious about a particular image. This latter approach can be especially fun with the pieces that do refer heavily to his visual output, like one of my favorites, “On Titles,” a long list piece, which begins:

1. General comments apropos of titles:

The titles of pictures are not explanations and pictures are not illustrations of titles. The relationship between title and picture is poetic, that is, it only catches some of the object’s characteristics of which we are usually unconscious, but which we sometimes intuit, when extraordinary events take place which logic has not yet managed to elucidate.

  • Alice au pays des merveilles

We imagine the tree to be living in wonderland. To this end, the landscape and the tree have human features.

  • L’Invention du feu

The amazing discovery of fire. Thanks to the friction of two bodies together, suggestive of the physical mechanism of pleasure.

  • L’École buissonnière

Here, the idea of playing truant is applied to objects.

Life is no longer represented on a stage set, the roving imagination sees life as a show.

  • La Leçon d’esthétique

In the forest a hunter meets an art show.

  • Raminagrobis

The cat still exists in the twentieth century. The legend bursts into modern life.


René Magritte: Selected Writings (2016) is published by University of Minnesota Press and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.


What Comes Next: Edra Soto on Sixty Inches from Center

For the next few weeks, Sector is publishing interviews with artists who are contributing to The Green Lantern Press’ 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. The following excerpted interview was originally published by Sixty Inches From Center.

What Comes Next: An Interview with Edra Soto

Janny Lam

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Edra Soto is a Chicago-based artist, educator, curator, and gallery director of an outdoor project space called The Franklin. I’d looked up to her for a while and from afar, and a couple months ago we both happened to be invited to speak on an artist panel (where I finally met her in person and gushed over her like the fangirl I am). The panel was called “What Matters,” and when the main topic was brought up, she discussed her dedication to local artist communities and helping them outside of a more conventional gallery system.

But who is Edra, as an artist, herself? In anticipation of Connect Hyde Park Arts Festival, where she’ll be showing some of her own artwork, I had the honor of interviewing her; read our conversation below to find out.

Jenny Lam: How did you first become interested in art?

Edra Soto: I inherited my taste in crafting from my parents, who were artistic. My mother made cakes for sale at home. Wedding cakes, quinceañera cakes, birthday cakes… all kinds, shapes and forms. She was a perfectionist, so they were crafted beautifully and also delicious. After 10 years of leaving her cake business, people still asked for them.

She and my dad also had a commercial ceramic business. They casted coconuts and turned them into planters. We had a ceramic kiln at home for many years. My mom was also excellent at sewing. From my school uniform to my prom dress, she made many outfits for me throughout the years. My dad made our kitchen cabinets and bar and took stained glass as a hobby later in his life.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was a self-taught poet and painter. He used to recite a poem for me every time I visited him with my mother.

I did a lot of illustrations for sports and theatre events during high school. I found great validation from my peers and teachers. During my senior year, I led a drawing club that won a distinction. They gave me a gift certificate and a trophy that I saved in a closet for couple of years. When I was in college, I took the trophy and disassembled it to use its parts on a sculpture.

JL: Could you describe your work and the process that goes into it?

ES: I consider myself a conceptual artist. My process consists on focusing on a subject and developing a reasoning that leads me to create. Sometimes I take the role of a director or producer, and sometimes I handcraft myself. My goal is to create work that has inclusive, welcoming, and immersive qualities. I find inspiration in my upbringing, my personal and geographical relationships, and my relationships with the communities I have been involved with.

ES: Living in Chicago allowed me to broaden my education and consider my upbringing as a subject matter. I lived in Puerto Rico for 25 years before moving to Chicago. This is a significant part of my life, and it was only when I left that I acquired enough perspective to understand the significance, value, and idiosyncrasies of my Puerto Rican culture.

JL: What/who inspires you?

ES: Things that I don’t understand completely; the potential of something; what I can encounter while walking; raw nature; intelligent comedians; learning; traveling; music; kindness.

JL: In addition to CONNECT, is there anything else we can look forward to from you?

ES: I donated one of my Tropicalamerican chairs to Sector 2337 for New Age Now, their 2nd Annual Fundraiser for the Green Lantern Press. I am so proud to support one of the most dynamic organizations in the city and look forward to presenting GRAFT there in February 2017.

Among the exiting venues that I get to present my work in 2017 and 2018 are: The Arts Club of Chicago; The University Galleries at Illinois State University; The Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago; Museo de la Universidad de Puerto Rico; DePaul Museum; Project Row Houses; the Pérez Art Museum Miami; and a long awaited commission from the CTA.

See the entire interview here.


Seeing and Being: Kiam Marcelo Junio on Filipino Kitchen

In the last week of November, Sector 2337 is posting interviews and articles with artists who are contributing to our Dec 2nd fundraiser, New Age Now. Chicago-based writer, Kathleen Rooney will contribute to the curated, artist-made menu of transcendental delights with their “Vegan caramels with mango, coconut, and sea salt”  and ” Tea in 3 Ways, satchels for people to take home and use as desired, whether as a tea, a ritual bath, or offerings on their altar which includes: Himalayan pink salt, Sri Lankan cinnamon, star anise, Ultra Blue lavender, Chinese ginger, hyssop, green cardamom, and Sevilla orange.” Last year, Junio created a cookbook that was discussed at length, along with its intersection in their artistic practice, on the Filipino Kitchen. An excerpt from that article is below.


The headline of an April 21, 2015, Washington Post article by Tim Carman declared, “At long last, Filipino food arrives.”

And yet, haven’t Filipinos been here in the US all along? Since the 1760s, yes, we have.

While defining “existence” can be a game of perspective or semantics, existing in the recognized public, in the cultural, political and social arenas, and in commercial and business worlds also connotes visibility and hence legitimacy. Filipino food may not have existed for some audiences in the US because there were no recognized Filipino restaurants. Across our wide experience, Filipinos live with, negotiate and transcend such invisibilities.

With their genderqueer performance persona Jerry Blossom, Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist Kiam Marcelo Junio addresses visibility and presence in “Filipino Fusions,” a six-part online cooking show and cookbook.


In 2013, Kiam was approached by Inside the Artists’ Kitchen, a food and arts journal that chronicles an artist’s practice through a conversation at their home while cooking and sharing a meal. Kiam pitched the idea to create a cooking show with Filipino food hosted by their performance persona. (Author’s note: Kiam’s prefered gender prounouns are ‘they’ and ‘their.’)

“I decided to approach it through a queer lens by using my alter ego, Jerry Blossom, who I had performed for several years, in semi-drag,” said Kiam.

They developed Jerry Blossom, initially, for burlesque—an orientalism subversion and empowered pseudonym—but it quickly became a way for Kiam to explore and express queerness and femininity.

“All of these things that I had [been] told not to be, growing up in a Catholic household, and then going into the Navy—into this super-hyper-masculine environment. I needed a way to let out who I was, and all of the parts of me that I had been hiding.”

Along their artistic career, Kiam has used Jerry Blossom in performance to claim spaces for queer expression. As the alter ego in Filipino Fusions, Jerry’s confluence of various identities and experiences converge—a queer one, a vegetarian one and a Filipino one simultaneously. This confluence of identity is where the name, “Filipino Fusions,” comes from, not the inauthentic, anachronistic manner that most food historians understand the same term, according to this February 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Don’t Call It Fusion.”

Before this project, Kiam had not used cooking or food in their artistic practice, though it was an idea that intrigued them for a long time. Kiam recounted why they wanted to do a cooking show. “[I told them,] I really want to delve more into Filipino food and Filipino cuisine, and reconnect to that culture because I feel like I’ve kind of been taken away from it—some of it by choice, some of it by circumstances,” Kiam remembered.

Filipino Fusions can be seen as a result of Kiam’s desire to reconnect to their roots and to publicly represent their intersections of identity and culinary heritage amongst the resurgence of popular food culture in the US.

Read the rest of this article here.


Temporary Psychic Respite: An Interview with Matt Sage

For the next month, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews and articles with artists who have donated work for the 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. What follows is an interview with Matt Sage from Patient Sounds. Matthew Sage is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, writer, and publisher/editor living in Chicago. He is interested in creating works that negotiate and trouble the liminal territories between physical bodies/spaces and their digital counterparts. Sage owns and operates Patient Sounds, a private press record label and book publisher established in 2009 and has performed or installed works at SAIC Sullivan Galleries, Sector 2337, Public Access (Chicago), and MOMA PS1 (NYC). Currently, Sage is an adjunct professor at Wilbur Wright College, where he teaches composition and critical reading with a focus on science fiction and technopolitics, ethics and aesthetics in the Anthropocene, and digital/classical media analysis.

Patient Sounds will perform at the fundraiser on Friday December 2, from 10PM – Midnight.

Lara Schoorl: What is Patient Sounds?

Matthew Sage: Patient Sounds is a private press record label and book publisher currently based in Chicago, though originally founded in Northern Colorado. The label started on a very small scale in 2009 as an avenue for a small circle of like-minded individuals looking to publish our work on a small scale. It has since expanded to include artists from all over the world. We create cassette tapes, vinyl records, chapbooks, and other publications and forms of data that propagate considered artworks.

Caroline Picard: What is it about cassette tapes that interests you?

MS: The cassette is interesting to me for three primary reasons. First: they are cheap, and can be quickly reproduced; compared to vinyl or CDs, the production turnaround is much easier. They are also more affordable to consumers for this reason. Second: I appreciate them for being a watershed technology. Consumer music technology moves very quickly and left a rather fetching mode for listening to music to become obsolete. I am glad to say counter culture has helped rescue the cassette from obsolescence. Third: I love the aesthetics of the tape. The packaging and design possibilities offer many opportunities for unique design. I mean to say, they are highly designable, but also incredibly utilitarian. These qualities give them a verisimilitude; they are handsome but they are also very affordable consumer objects. This is why they interest me.

LS: What do you have planned for the performance at the Green Lantern Press fundraiser?

MS: The performance will be durational, lasting roughly two hours, and will balance a chance operation computer-driven sound engine with live improvisation and instrumental incantation. Consider this somewhere between a Cageian chance operation performance and a low-level spiritual free jazz blow out. We hope not to be the focal point, but instead, to create an atmosphere for beings in the gallery to dwell in.

LS: That sounds otherworldly in an android-feeling way. I also heard something about psychedelic minstrels?

MS: You heard correctly. Also, there may be druids involved. Also, synthesizers.

LS: Ha, that is amazing. Who do you make art/music for?

MS: Instead of a (who), as a label, we tend to consider it more a (when) or (where). The work we make and publish on Patient Sounds is generally engineered or curated with the creation of an environment in mind. We aim to provide sound/language/images, in whatever mode, that can be used by any listener to evoke lucid environments, and create considered spaces for thought. This is more generally speaking, because that may seem to be very generically narrow; Patient Sounds does not focus on one particular genre or style of music, but instead, champions those making work on their own terms with what tools they have available to them. In turn, we also strive to include any and all listeners, readers, viewers, to explore the spaces/times we have provided.

LS: Yes, it is really nice how the music and/or writing that you publish transgresses the borders of writing, for examples, cassettes become chapbooks. How has Chicago and/or community influenced your work? 

MS: The openness of both artists and audience in this city have made working in Chicago thrilling. The influence of having this sort of openness has pushed us collectively to take more risks, and with risks come failure, and with failure comes learning, and with learning comes the reward of expanding definitions for what success can look or sound like. It has influenced the label, and myself as an artist, immensely, and I am incredibly grateful for the arts community in this city.

CP: What does the premise of “New Age” mean to you today? How did you connect with it when organizing your performance?

MS: Though I am not a New Age scholar, as a fan of music, I have enjoyed many a Shadowfax and George Winston LPs sprung from record store dollar bins. That was my New Age initiation. Much of ambient or minimal home recording being produced now owes enormously to the 60s-90s New Age canon. So, when approaching this performance, I wanted to integrate the elemental awareness I see in this sort of New Age music.  How can we bring water or fire or wind or earth into the sounds? Winston’s works based on the seasons were fundamental to my approach.

I am also very interested, especially given the current political climate, in making healing music: not music that itself heals, but rather music that offers listeners an environment wherein they can contemplate and find healing within themselves. I don’t know if music itself can heal, but I feel offering listeners a place to enjoy either communal or isolated tranquility – not as escapism, but as temporary psychic respite – is affording them a chance to return to the world outside of that music, reenergized, full of love, and prepared to stand against hate.



How Does When: An Interview with Heather Mekkelson


For a long time, Heather Mekkelson produced elaborate installations, combining found and fabricated materials to stage disaster’s aftermath—plane crashes or floods, for instance. I wrote about one such installation at a former apartment gallery. In the last few years, however, Mekkelson had a profound shift—moving away from disaster source material in favor of more abstract assemblages that reflect upon astronomy, astrophysics, and the task of human consciousness to locate itself. Mekkelson is a multidisciplinary artist working primarily in sculpture and installation. Born in New York, raised in dozens of East Coast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern locations, she is currently based in Chicago. Her work has been exhibited in group shows in galleries and institutions nationally since 2001; it has been featured in Art Journal, Art21 Magazine, Artforum.com, Artnet, Flavorpill, Hyperallergic, Newcity, and Time Out Chicago. She has been the recipient of several fellowships and grants including the 2012 Artadia Award. Mekkelson is represented by 65GRAND. This interview was conducted as part of a month-long series of posts, featuring artists who are contributing to The Green Lantern Press’ 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now.

Caroline Picard: Do you see a difference between fabricating objects and finding objects? 

Heather Mekkelson: I give the same amount of working-through to the found components as to the fabricated. In this way, I don’t place a difference between the two as I’m making a piece. The platform I build from is a neutral, non-hierarchical ground. Everything is equally material. When a found object is incorporated, the residual “thingness” it imparts to the final piece is a purposeful index—I welcome it. In those instances, where a found object isn’t everything I’m looking for, I will fabricate a component that resembles the original but improves upon it. It’s a very fluid categorization for me.

CP: I want to say that the disaster-oriented work inspired an almost implosive feeling, whereas your work now feels very expansive. Does that make any sense to you?

HM: Yes, in two ways. First, it resonates when I think about the sources of these two bodies of work. Consider the force of destruction in a disaster event. The natural energy that creates that moment builds by looping in on itself, focusing all of its effort on a localized area, leaving in its wake a specific field of fragments. My current body of work departs from that past, localized energy and turns our attention to a potential, expansive one. Envisioning the what-could-be is almost like its psychological countering effect…To go from staring at the tangible on the ground, to lifting your head up to the sky.

Second, in terms of time. Time depicted in the disaster work was like a temporal hiccup. The installations were frozen snap-shots of one precise moment in linear time. In the current work, I question time in and of itself—if it even exists. If it does, it reaches everywhere, simultaneously and in more dimensions than we can measure. So instead of the question, when did this event happen, the question is, does “when” even exist?

CP: How do you question time in sculpture? Is it a matter of changeless-ness? In Northwest Africa Via Mercury, for instance, there are multiple temporal registers—the salad bowl has one lifetime, the rock another, the tape, and then the paint evokes star time, but I feel like the intersection of those registers might be what you’re getting at…?

HM: That is the question!—maybe an impossible one for me to answer, but nevertheless, the one that challenges me. It does have to do with a certain “changeless-ness” in that sculpture is stubbornly based in form. Using a medium that results in a blatantly physical, obdurate thing seems antithetical to expressing a formless concept such as time. It’s a wonderfully daunting task. I have noticed, using assemblage in particular, that each component does a lot of the temporal work on its own. Whether the object is recognizable or not, it carries its own potential, its own history. Then my associations come into play. Likewise, with symbolism and metaphor. It could be the fusion of these that allows the sculpture to dance on multiple registers at once.

CP: What role does intuition have in your work now? And has that changed over the years?

HM: I view intuition as a separate source of insight, rather than something that is driven from experience. Like an internal oracle providing guidance beyond discursive or immediate knowledge. In most of my previous work, matters of source material, justification, and rationalization mediated the role of intuition. With my work now, I have even more research going into it, but intuition has become the paramount rationale for exploring theories about the universe and the unseen, sometimes incomprehensible forces in our universe. Giving it free rein, intuition is the tool that allows me to simultaneously bypass and encapsulate plain intelligence to target the essence of a thing.

CP: What is the relationship between one’s intuition and one’s aesthetic?

HM: I think aesthetics are derived from instinct—very different from intuition. Instinct exists in reaction to the external world whereas intuition is a force emanating from within. To expand on that; if intuition comes from unconscious/subconscious/preconscious knowledge crystallized into a thought, instinct (and in this case aesthetics) comes from previous experiences and tangible, sensorial impressions. This isn’t to say that my aesthetic choices don’t surprise me! Only that I trust those decisions come from the accumulated physical intelligence of working in sculpture for this long.