Back in the fall of 2014, a group of artists and innovators started a full sensory and cerebral experience known as Sub Chroma. From a casual brainstorm session amongst like-minded individuals grew an annual artistic event like nothing else.
It’s an event-as-medium collaboration, wherein the affair itself is work of art. Where some artists work in oils or clays, Canvas takes something as commonplace as a party and social gathering and turns it on its head, viewing the occasion as the medium in which they produce their art.
The environment is painstakingly crafted. With attention paid to the most minute of details, Sub Chroma combines visual, technological, audio and performance art into a thoughtfully curated, symbiotic art environment for the participating artists, featured musicians, guest spots, and attendees.
“A big thing is the energy that’s put into [Sub Chroma] and when you’re actually in the room you can feel it,” says Emily Dahlquist, a co-producer of Sub Chroma 2016, “it’s so overwhelming.”
Sub Chroma is also an exhibition of some of the most boundary-pushing, genre-defying work in Chicago. “We wanted to challenge the way people think about gallery artwork, and what constitutes gallery artwork,” says Preston Jones, co-founder and director of operations for Canvas. “Conventionally, we think of it as as physical, tangible art hung on a wall in a room with bright lights. We wanted to challenge what a gallery experience is and what is thought of as live performance.”
It’s a transitory exploration of art, music, technology, and immersion accessed by calling into question the definitions of event, exhibition, and art.
“It’s not just another art show,” Dahlquist explains, “it’s art that’s evolving and making history. It’s a historical thing that you can experience and engage with.”
In its first year Sub Chroma sold out at its 250 tickets, seeing the 5,000 square-foot studio and production space in which it was held absolutely swamped with attendees. The following year, Sub Chroma moved to Chop Shop & 1st Ward Events down the street, and was able to host nearly 700 people over the course of two days.
This year the expectations are high given that the location for the event is at Moonlight Studios, which has a capacity limit of 800.
Initially, Sub Chroma was used as the first solo exhibition for artist Lefty OUT There. Lefty is a Chicago-based artist who began his career by posting wheat paste drawings and paintings on the streets of Chicago while he was still enrolled at Columbia College. “Sub Chroma propelled my career tenfold,” says Lefty. He cites the first Sub Chroma as being a major point of change for his work and his advancement as an artist. “I ended up selling every piece in the show,” says Lefty.
With the help of Lefty’s art, Sub Chroma’s engagement peak the highest levels of the senses. It hits audibly and visually, with music slots filled by artists like Com Truise (from the second year of Sub Chroma), and audio/visual outputs from artist DRMBT (Vincent Naples) as he digitally projects Lefty’s paintings onto the walls. Even fashion has a place at Sub Chroma.
Stylist Elizabeth “Big Hair Big City” Margulis is in charge of the apparel that the models/performers wear for Sub Chroma 2016, and Lefty is alongside her using them as human canvases. The models are hand painted in his squiggly style.
The attendants are involved in the project too. Each guest is asked to wear all white in order to be properly projected upon with the use of augmented reality/virtual reality projection mapping. “You’re literally being covered with the visuals and sounds,” says Margulis, “You allow yourself to get lost within the lines and by getting lost, you find yourself.” Sub Chroma and Canvas effectively draws one in with the environment it creates, and before you know it, you are, quite literally, a piece of the puzzle.
Lefty’s paintings will be digitally mapped and projected again this year. However, as technology evolves, so does Sub Chroma. “This year there is an analog aspect, [as in] artwork that is physical and hung on a wall. There’s also a digital aspect, but the gallery is inside a headset. You have to see it in virtual reality,” explains Jones. This virtual gallery Jones mentions is accessed via personal VR headsets and guests will be able to explore a separate kind of art exhibit as a private, and more individualized, virtual experience.
Canvas touts Sub Chroma as one of the most progressive projects they put on, but one of the arguments stacked against them is whether or not these events are mere parties.
“If we do it right over these next couple of months,” says Jones, “we can be taken more seriously as an organization and a community for putting out progressive art, not just young art that’s ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ and not just a bunch of art kids hanging out and having parties.”
“It’s very communal,” says Dahlquist, “At the same time we are really selective. We don’t just put anything out. We hold ourselves to a high degree of accountability with it.”
Canvas and Sub Chroma began with friends, but can the events surrounding Canvas branch out beyond the initial friendships made in the “community”? Dahlquist certainly hopes so. “I would love to see this at the Cultural Center in Chicago,” she says. “I want to see Sub Chroma go into the world as an exhibition, an artistic exhibition that could travel to museums, travel to galleries around the world in different forms.”
The aspirations of Sub Chroma are bright, and they have yet to dim for those involved. The individuals that make up Canvas, the ones that put on these art events pour their time, energy, sweat, sleep and money into something they believe in. It’s difficult to contend with those who carry an organization with such conviction and devotion, but it’s important to look further into what is actually happening in the scene.