August 2017 Artist in Residence: Joseph Wilcox

This month we are welcoming Joseph Wilcox as our artist-in-residence!

Joseph Wilcox (b. 1984) is an artist and educator living in Chicago. His zines are part of small publishing libraries nationally and internationally. As an artist, Wilcox takes on the role of object-maker, documentarian, curator, and project organizer to explore how institutional control and social power structures undermine the autonomy of the individual. He was most recently the co-founder and photo editor of LDOC, a free yearlong photography and creative writing publication that was distributed on the Red Line train in Chicago. Wilcox holds a BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design and an MFA from the Lesley University College of Art and Design. He is a current resident in HATCH Projects and teaches contemporary art practices to high school students in Chicago.


Read our Q & A with Joseph to get some insight into his practice.

As you stated in your bio, your work focuses on exploring “how institutional control and social power structures undermine the autonomy of the individual”. How did your photography develop into photographing these subjects?

I did a low-residency MFA program through Lesley University College of Art and Design (formerly Art Institute of Boston) and during that time I was working full time as a public school teacher. In order to have enough time to work on my MFA, and keep my sanity, my photography naturally shifted to focusing on the place where I worked. It was through this work that my photography began to explore the power structures inherent in public schools which led me to a better understanding of how these power dynamics are a part of every institution, environment, community, and interaction that exists in our daily lives.

You seem to focus a lot of your series on the students you have taught over the years or are currently teaching. Have those relationships taught you anything about the photography world? What has teaching taught you about your own photography?

As a photography teacher, it is expected to teach students about the “masters of photography”. And I have always had a problem with that. Because history is written by the winners. And I feel like that idea is something that is often referenced in terms of history but less so in art, but it’s definitely there. So every day I teach, I am searching for alternative histories and practitioners to share with my students.

When students come to my class, a lot of them don’t know who Walker Evans, William Eggleston, or Alec Soth are, and I’d kind of like to keep it that way. So I think what I’ve learned through teaching students is that there is a huge gamut of people making photographs who aren’t included in the canon of photography that are just as relevant and important to both my students and myself.

You’ve also done different projects such as Getting to Know My Neighbors and We Regret to Inform You. How did these series start? How do these series differ from those that you work with your students on?

Both of these series, and a lot of work that I do outside of my workplace, revolve around finding ways to integrate art and life, or finding art in everyday existence. Both Getting to Know My Neighbors and We Regret to Inform You were projects that came out of things that I was already doing without thinking of them as art. I was really into collecting Chase ATM receipts and I can’t help but get rejection emails from things I’ve applied to; so using these resources to make zines was easy once I accumulated a few. I feel like they are kind-of a lazy person’s art project. Which is the best kind of “art-integrated-with-life” project because those should be lazy. Art that is merged with life shouldn’t be work, it should be natural. And in that way, both of those projects connect with the work I’m doing in the school where I work, because if you work for a living, art should be a part of that living.

What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?

I am going to be working on a couple different projects and taking advantage of the drum scanners and mural printers which I don’t have free access to normally. I’ll be creating the layout for a future publication that will contain a lot of the work I’ve created in schools over the last few years. I also plan to do some test prints and mural prints for a show that I have in November as part of HATCH Projects residency about a mysterious individual I discovered online named Martin Klein.

Are there any fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with our community?

I run a not-really-art-thing every year called The Chop Top Challenge with my brother where teams cut the tops off cars and then travel from Chicago to a destination while collecting points through challenges. We are headed to New Orleans next year (if you want to chop the top but don’t know how, please email me). I also just recorded an EP with my good friend Andrew Maguire who is also a photographer for a band called Old Man Skate. We’re not sure if it’s a joke yet, but I think the songs are actually very good.

Because of all the zines you’ve created over the years, are there any current magazines or zines that you recommend for people to check out about art and/or photography?

In terms of more established publishers, anything that Half Letter Press puts out (Hardcore Architecture is so good), and I recently picked up Dum Ditty Dum Number Two by Other Forms which is “a new critical rock fanzine that randomly generates a date during the rock epoch (between 1950 and 2017) and looks at the music and events that happened that day.” It’s very esoteric and “academic” and fun.

The best part about zines or self-publishing is that it offers makers an opportunity to connect to viewers that are interested in their work, even if it’s a pretty niche/weird thing. My suggestion would be to head to Quimby’s, a local zine fest, or online resources like The Independent Photobook, and find something that you think is awesome and buy it, rather than waiting for a larger organization to tell you that it’s good. And then email the maker and tell them you bought it. I always enjoy the conversations that come from those emails. There are so many talented people creating engaging and thoughtful work that will never make it into a gallery or museum, and the self-publishing world is offering them a chance to share that work.

Lastly, what is your favorite spot in Chicago, IL?

My hands-down favorite spot in Chicago is a stretch of Jefferson Street just north of Cermak (where Redmoon Theater was). It’s a rare spot in the Pilsen/Chinatown area that is stuck between warehouse buildings and vacant fields (aka: dog parks), so it offers a nice respite from some of the busier, nearby neighborhoods. It’s also been my go-to for car repairs, recording screamy vocals in my van, a meet up spot for the beginning of the Chop Top Challenge rally, and finding inspiration for new work.