Photo by Nathan Mandell
Photo Caption -
ARTIST GREGOR MORTIS recently opened Charybdis, a 14,000 square-foot multi-arts complex, at Its new Jefferson Park location, 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave. Mortis, who founded Charybdis In 1994, opened the complex as a networking center where artists can collaborate and work together on various projects. The facility, located in a former second-floor bowling alley, offers shows based on suggestions from local artists.

Nadig Press - Wednesday November 1, 2000
Front Page

Artists have new space in Jefferson Park

By Jennifer Larsen
Staff Writer

In Greek mythology, Charybdis is a chaotic whirlpool that protects the Straits of Messina along with Scylla, a six-headed dragon disguised as a rock. Ships carrying Greek heroes are faced with the dilemma of sacrificing six crewmembers to Scylla or risking the whole ship attempting to navigate Charybdis.

An artist risks everything and refuses to sacrifice integrity for success, according to Gregor Mortis, founder of Charybdis, a new multi-arts facility on the Northwest Side. “As an artist passes through life, something pulls them in,” he said. “We’re basically assembling a massive (artistic) community who can do anything.”

Located in a former second-floor bowling alley at 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave., Charybdis was founded in 1994 as a space where artists can collaborate and share ideas. The group acquired a warehouse space in Wicker Park and began producing events and hosting projects such as music videos, feature films and theatrical rehearsals.

As the activities grew, Charybdis required additional space and moved from its 5,000-square-foot space in June of 1999, taking a year hiatus before reopening in September at its new 14,000 square-foot Jefferson Park facility.

The Wicker Park facility was one component of the area’s popularity boom, but as more developers moved into the area seeking money-making opportunities, the decision was made to move to a new area lacking an artistic community, Mortis said. Consequently, as development continued in Wicker Park, the very elements that made it unique and marketable were forced to move out of the neighborhood, leaving developers with a replica of the Lincoln Park area, he said.

THE CHARYBDIS artistic community is “everything combined,” Mortis said, incorporating theater companies, record labels, photographers and other artists for multi-media shows, while allowing artists to express themselves and retain ownership of their works at the same time. The artist historically has been seen as a slacker, but an evolving new image portrays the artist as a backstabbing creator working only for success, he said, adding that most artists’ value is determined by profit.

Mortis said that most art groups operate as non-profit so that they are not perceived as a threat to the corporate side of the artistic community, such as major film and record companies. He said that while Charybdis operates as a non-profit organization, it is registered as for-profit because he refuses to accept corporate sponsorship and chooses to rely on the strength of the artistic community for its success.

”I’ve decided that we are seceding from the American standard (of artists),” Mortis said. “Everyone is for-profit. Everyone has bills to pay.”

Mortis, age 30, was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Illinois. A professional radio and club disc jockey, musician and singer, audio sculptor and sound designer, founding member of the Defiant Theatre Company and recipient of Chicago’s After Dark Award, he primarily studied theater in college but soon realized that he disliked the attitudes of many actors.

Mortis also played in a band, but found that also he disliked the attitudes of many musicians. During a visit with a former teacher, he said, he found that an artist is not constrained by one discipline but is free to explore all media. “I realized that I didn’t like them (the actors and the musicians) because they’re not artists,” he said.

MORTIS SAID that when he first looked at the space in Jefferson Park, it still had bowling lanes and was drab. When he looked at the space again in May it was gutted and he decided it had potential.

Mortis said that the group was looking for a location in an artistically untapped, easily accessible area. He said that the area offers many conveniences, such as paint and hardware stores as well as other stores where artists can pick up supplies.

The space has no permanent seating or sets because, as Mortis explains, nothing is meant to last in the ever-evolving, ever-changing entity. Movie theater seats, acquired from an old theater, easily can be stored in loft spaces in the rafters that stretch across the ceiling, floors and walls can be repainted, and sets and other art pieces can be taken apart or stored away.

Aside from a small misunderstanding between police who thought the space was being used for an underground party, Mortis said that the facility has received a warm reception from it's neighbors. One show titled Recess, which featured an adult-sized jungle gym, already has been staged. The show featured games of hopscotch and Twister and was open to visitors age 18 and older for 5 weeks, he said.

Mortis said that the group had been talking about putting on a show similar to Recess for some time but had been constrained by the previous space. He said that when the group moved into the new space it resurrected the concept as a fun way to utilize the full space and introduce itself to the community.

FOR IT’S CURRENT programs, 500 Clown Macbeth and Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, work was done to transform the space into a subverted version of common images of hell, Mortis said. Some elements of Recess were modified, while other elements were added to create the artists’ rendering of the underworld.

To stage shows, Charybdis relies on more than 5,000 artists to come up with ideas and contribute works, Mortis said. An idea for a show is circulated to the facility’s mailing list and all artists are invited to respond and contribute, he said, adding that about 100 artists contributed on Recess.

The only requirement to join Charybdis is the desire to create, Mortis said, and the only rules are that artists not hurt the space, themselves or other members. Because Charybdis accepts no corporate sponsorship or endorsements, it relies on the art community and its audiences for support, he said, adding that members contribute funding or services to keep the facility operating.

”The facility is our only asset. Everything is volunteer,” Mortis said. “There are no suits walking around and there’s no man behind the curtain. I’m doing what 99.9 percent of the people in the world will never do.”

Photo by Nathan Mandell

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