REVEAL: Putting in the Work

REVEAL: Putting in the Work

I recently celebrated the opening of my solo exhibition, REVEAL, at the Arcade gallery on campus. This exhibition opportunity was awarded to me through the Stuart Abelson Graduate Research Fellowship, which I won in my first year as an MFA candidate in Photography at Columbia. The fellowship funds individual travel abroad in pursuit of academic and visual work and culminates in a visual exhibition on-campus the following academic year. Put simply, this opportunity allowed me to reconnect with my best friend and put together more than just an exhibition of photographs.

Katina and me at the opening of REVEAL on February 3rd, 2023 at The Arcade
(on view through 3/21 at 618 S. Michigan Ave., Columbia College Chicago)

As I’ve written in previous blogs on Marginalia, Abelson fellows can propose travel to any international location, and I chose to go to Spain last summer. I spent half my four weeks there meeting burlesque performers and exploring DIY shows local to Madrid and the other half of my time adventuring around Almunecar, Granada, Seville, and Valencia with my amiga, muse, and creative collaborator, Katina (who, at the time, was living in Almunecar with her husband David). I had not seen Katina since her marriage the previous summer, but once I was in Spain we picked up right where we left off. Spending nearly every day together, we made images of Katina set against a backdrop of rotating spaces and places encountered throughout our travels.

David and Katina in Michigan on their wedding day, 2021

Almunecar, Spain, 2022

Valencia, Spain, 2022

Seville, Spain, 2022

One day at a Mediterranean lunch stop during our travels in Granada, Katina and David revealed they would be moving back to Chicago in the fall. I was surprised, but obviously delighted, to have my best friends back in the city I’ve called home for thirteen years. I also thought about all of the potential in our collaborations—both as burlesque performers and artists—but also as intimately close friends who have navigated the ups and downs of a significant friendship that now also spans nearly a decade. I thought about my visual work in the MFA program (as nerdy as that sounds). And, without missing a beat, after helping them move into their Rogers Park apartment at the beginning of September 2022, I started making new images of not only Katina but her and David together in their new home, beautiful light spilling into modest city dwellings…

Ostrich feather fans, Chicago, IL, 2022

At home with David, Chicago, IL, 2022

Sheridan Red Line stop, Chicago, IL, 2022

During this same lunch in Granada, Katina and I also brainstormed names for a rock-themed burlesque show (that we hoped to co-produce and co-host each month) at a queer woman-owned venue near my apartment in Chicago. Fast forward: Katina and my show rock n’ roll-themed monthly burlesque show, Lust for Life, just celebrated its six-month anniversary—and also it’s sixth sold-out show in a show. We could not be more grateful to find success in something we had chatted idly about, like a pipedream, ever since we met each other and discovering our mutual love of rock music and getting naked. I’m actually going to take a moment here to celebrate US and our show because we deserve it.

Performing “Turbo Lover” as Kitty Tornado, Lust for Life, Chicago, IL, 2022

Lust for Life has allowed us to strengthen our muscles as leaders and managers, and it has also given us a supportive platform to dust off our own choreography and performance skills and debut solo acts that otherwise would be met with rejection or scrutiny in other environments. It has allowed us to deviate from what we experienced when we were performing consistently between 2015-2020 in a number of ways: compensating local performers fairly and consistently by offering an ACT rate, casting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks (and a spectrum of bodies!) consistently as acts and supporting crew, curating a show around ROCK MUSIC in SAFE SPACE for femmes/queer folks/etc., and encouraging tipping to the extent that everyone gets a good chunk from their hard work at the end of the night. We are not perfect, but we are perfectionists, and we hope that’s apparent to everyone who has performed and worked with us or come to our show at Dorothy in Ukrainian Village.

At the opening for REVEAL on February 3rd, I felt love from so many communities and intersections of my life: from food service and Starbucks (where David was my first barista hire; he then introduced me to his girlfriend Katina who was taking burlesque classes), to local burlesque/sex work, to academia and the community I have established through my hard work in two Master’s programs over four years at Columbia. Sometimes, something as simple as extending yourself for a scholarship application (not minimizing that the Abelson application requires work, and not minimizing that I had severe doubts that I could win it) can bring so much worthwhile work and celebration into your life.

We always share a lot of caffeinated silliness on post-sleepover mornings and afternoons