DADS—the Digital Art Demo Space, a DIY new media space in Bridgeport—is one large room that takes the form of whatever exhibition is being shown. Old TVs playing glitched-out videos are placed on Roman columns. There’s a virtual reality game being played next to a hot tub. That’s right—DADS has a hot tub with an eight-bit style painting of Mt. Fuji behind it. In the far back of the room, past the bar, two more video games are set up on TVs and projectors. All the while, a live DJ curates the mood. As the space approaches its third year, I sat down with Thorne Brandt and Bobbie Carr, two of three organizers that live at DADS, to talk about the challenges and rewards of running their DIY space.
Has anybody ever contracted any diseases from this hot tub?
Thorne Brandt: That’s your first question? We maintain the hot tub with utmost cleanliness: PH balancing chemicals, and I have litmus strips and check it very regularly, and we change the water pretty regularly. No one has contracted any disease. But someone once brought a bath bomb and didn’t inform us that they were gonna do that and there was glitter in it and that clogged the jets—but that’s a different story for another time.
Digital Arts Demo Space, often abbreviated as DADS. What is it?
TB: It is a new media gallery venue for audiovisual performances, a maker space, and also a residence.
How long has it been in existence? Talk to me about the origins of it.
TB: We have been doing shows for about two and a half years. Personally, I have lived in DIY spaces for over ten years in Chicago. I had a brief six-month period where I was just staying in a normal apartment and went a little crazy from just not having the energy that comes with a public or shared space. Before living at this location, I was living at the Hills Esthetic Center, and that was a Garfield Park gallery that suffered a fire…. It only had art openings with paintings, and it was usually some form of abstract expressionism. There was a few performance openings, but it was mostly focused on the fine art. There was a lot of things that happened that kind of turned me off. At the opening, there’s not really much dialogue about what the art means. Especially for people coming into the space just to drink the wine or whatever, they’re just like, “Oh, this is an important thing, I’m supposed to be caring about this.” There is just this emperor’s clothing effect, and it’s the kind of thing I was trying to avoid with this type of space—a new medium space, in which the focus is on the interactivity and the transformation of the space, dialogue, showing unfinished work, and people critiquing each other’s stuff.
Describe the kinds of shows that you curate here at DADs.
TB: There’s not really one type of show. We generally go for things that are weird and things that are nerdy. Things that we don’t think we would see anywhere else. We started off exhibiting large-scale games, like board games. Our first few shows were created by this game designer, Andy North, who made this performance based loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons. When you walked into the space, you were put into this game show, and there was a point system that was evaluated with Nerf guns and things like that. So that’s a good example of the type of show that we’re interested in. Another great example is the Pop Up Arcade, which is a seasonal show that we’ve had a few times, usually around the end of the semester. Because a lot of people in Chicago are in art schools and studying game development, it’s a good venue for them to just bring a laptop, set up an arcade console, and look at what other people are making and share ideas. That’s my favorite type of show, because it’s the opposite of a spectacle. It’s not very finished. But you can kind of see these exchanges happening, these really honest critiques and collaborations forming, and really raw, budding talent that is present and willing to be open.
What is a unique challenge to running a DIY space, especially one that focuses on new media?
TB: The power went out a couple of times in the last show. So there’s the limits of the bad electricity that comes in old buildings that artists are able to afford, and the general access to resources is lacking, which I try to supplement with my nine to five. So it’s definitely a labor of love.
I think the biggest thing when people think of DIY spaces—where people live and try to have these large gathering—is horrible things might happen. Have there ever been times where things also went kind of drastically wrong, or maybe times when things went drastically amazing?
TB: There’s been a lot of recent tragedies at other spaces. I think the most famous one is Ghost Ship [in Oakland, California], and the Hills, the last place that I lived in, also had a fire, a three-alarm fire. And, we’ve been pretty lucky here. I mean, the bath bomb is like such a minuscule tragedy, and the power going out is probably the worst thing that’s happened here. When we have a show that we know is going to be popular, we try to really check the attendance, cut off the door, and announce before it gets filled that it’s sold out, because we don’t want to be at capacity or over capacity. And it happened during the magic show that we had last winter. A few people reached out to me after that show saying that they were super nervous, because it was like a month after Ghost Ship, and some of the themes in the show were dealing with fire and death, and…I think that it triggered some people. Some people advised that we have these exit lights and the fire extinguishers and stuff really visible. So we’ve taken that kind of care. The other part of your question was things going really well—I think that happens every time, honestly. We’re always really dazzled by how cool everybody is when they come here.
What’s one thing that you did not expect when you began this enterprise that then happened?
Bobbi Carr: Doing noise shows, I don’t think I expected that at all. It kind of just came to be after putting on shows and meeting each other…. We started off as a game remix kind of space, so I didn’t expect to meet people in that realm. I didn’t expect to branch out in that way from doing game remixes. I like that it went that way, for sure.
What’s a show that you guys have always thought of, but have not yet been able to create? Is there a dream show that you want to put on in the next year, two years?
TB: We’re really interested in escape rooms and also spook houses, and would love to invite guest artists to collaborate to create a space that people would be locked in in some way—in a scary way, in a psychologically disorienting way. And be forced to solve puzzles in a spin on the traditional escape room fad [that’s been around] for the past couple years.
Our full interview with DADS can be heard on the October 31, 2017 episode of SSW Radio on WHPK: