Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery [DFBRL8R] is an international roving platform rooted in Chicago. Itinerant since 2021, DFBRL8R presents projects whenever and wherever opportunities arise. Actively contributing to global dialogues surrounding time-based art and immaterial expressive forms, DFBRL8R energetically bridges local and global communities while raising awareness, appreciation, and respect for the discipline of Performance Art.
Based in Chicago, Defibrillator Gallery [DFBRL8R] is one of only a handful of organizations worldwide with a focus specifically on Performance Art. An international itinerant platform, DFBRL8R enthusiastically bridges local, national, and global communities through the exhibition and amplification of conceptual and ephemeral artistic practices.
Recognizing a demand for spaces that adeptly present time and body-based visual art, founder and director Joseph Ravens created a platform known for bold and courageous programming that provokes thought and stimulates discourse surrounding Live Art. DFBRL8R actively contributes to global dialogues about time-based art and immaterial expressive forms.
Provocative and reputable Live Art exhibitions at Defibrillator champion artists and audiences who are diverse in their culture, identities, and worldview by providing a valuable platform with a propensity for speaking to the concerns of people of color, queer and trans communities, people with disabilities, and all those who are invested in alternative modes of being in society.
A nudity scandal landed Joseph Ravens on the cover of the Chicago Reader in 2010 and resulted in the closure of a performance venue in downtown Chicago. The scandal was a catalyst for Ravens to invent a platform for artists to present unbridled performance art of any kind, without limitation. Later that year Ravens opened the doors and DFBRL8R LTD received non profit 501c3 status in 2011. Prolific for exactly one decade, DFBRL8R presented rigorous programming from January 2011 through February 2021 when the pandemic struck. In those ten years we became known for curating emerging and established Chicago talent alongside international and often celebrated historic figures.
DFBRL8R operated out of two different stand-alone storefront gallery spaces in the Noble Square neighborhood from 2010 through 2017. We inhabited the iconic space with silver striped walls on Milwaukee Ave from 2010 through 2014, and then the more refined space with basement and garage venues on Chicago Ave from the start of 2015 until the end of 2017.
Experiencing financial hardship while embracing an opportunity to experience another neighborhood, DFBRL8R partnered with Zhou B Art Center in 2018 and moved to Bridgeport on the near south side of Chicago. Zhou B allowed us to continue programming under their largesse. During this time we shifted to monthly exhibitions and expanded our residency program to last three weeks so that visiting artists could engage more meaningfully with Chicago.
The first step in becoming itinerant was downsizing. In 2023 DFBRL8R moved into a small studio at Mana Contemporary in the Pilson neighborhood where we currently store our equipment and archives. Our projects and exhibitions take place everywhere.
Defibrillator produced the globally popular Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival from 2012 until 2017. Another festival, a site-specific project called Bubbly Creek Performance Art Assembly, was an homage to our working-class Bridgeport neighborhood and a nod to Chicago’s rich labor history. Over the years DFBRL8R produced work by artists from Cuba, Finland, Nigeria, Italy, Greece, Germany, Mexico, Denmark, France, Israel, Estonia, Poland, UK, Viet Nam, South Korea, Myanmar, Canada, Croatia, Macedonia, Spain, Turkey, and Iran, to name a few.
International interaction is paramount at Defibrillator Gallery. To that end, we have aligned with several global institutions and cultural entities including the Goethe Institut, French Consulate, German Consulate, British Council, Asian Cultural Council, Institute Cervantes, Alliance Francaise, and many others. Defibrillator invitations have allowed visiting artists to receive cultural or governmental funding from dozens of countries around the world.
DFBRL8R works frequently with The School of the Art Institute of Chicago along with other universities and art schools including Columbia College, DePaul, Northwestern, Northern Illinois, Stamps School of Art, and The School of the Museum of Fine Art Boston, to name a few.
The DFBRL8R Relic Archive [DRive] is a strange, unique, and wonderful collection. A decade of non-stop live art and an almost fetishistic fascination with performance art artifacts resulted in the accumulation of a massive and idiosyncratic object collection. Of course, we also have an extensive digital archive of photography and video.
As we transition into a new a new way of being, Defibrillator Gallery will concentrate on organizing our object and digital archives in order to make them accessible. We will propose new stratagems for activating archives while challenging current archival exhibition methodologies to find solutions for making collections available for academics, artists, and the public at large to use as resources and fonts of inspiration.
Over the years DFBRL8R has engaged with hundreds of emerging, established, and celebrated artists from around the world. Notable project include working with 2017 Venice Biennale representatives Jelili Atiku (Nigeria) and Carlos Martiel (Cuba); and Documenta 2017 participant Regina Jose Galindo (Guatemala). Other influential artists presented include Ron Athey, Linda Montano, Roberto Sifuentes, Tori Wrånes, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Cynthia Plaster Caster, Zackary Drucker, Wafaa Bilal, Alastair MacLennan, and Marilyn Arsem, among other distinguished figures.
STATUS | NOV 2023
Defibrillator Gallery was extremely prolific for ten years and this rigorous programming exhausted our resources. When the pandemic happened and live events were no longer possible, we realized that the struggle wasn’t healthy (mentally, physically, or emotionally) for our leadership. Currently, DFBRL8R is trying to right ourselves – to find our best state of being. At the moment, that means being a roving platform, completely itinerant.
DFBRL8R has a studio at Mana Contemporary in the Pilson neighborhood where we store our equipment and archives. We may appear dormant, but founder and director Joseph Ravens has been organizing intermittent projects in Chicago and abroad – all under the umbrella of DFBRL8R. This is exciting and will continue. Not having to maintain an exhibition space (with all the labor and expense that that entails) has freed DFBRL8R to explore other modalities. We want to inhabit other spaces, other neighborhoods, other countries, and other cultures. We want to expand.
The pandemic forced us all to look at our past. Coincidentally, immediately preceding the lockdown, our last exhibition was a month-long retrospective performance festival called What Remains: On the Sacred, the Lost, and the Forgotten Relics of Live Art. The brainchild of Rotterdam-based ieke Trinks, this project uniquely activated and exhibited our massive and eccentric performance art artifact collection.
As we transition into a new way of being, Defibrillator Gallery intends to concentrate not only on the Relics, but also our extensive photo and digital archive. For us, the next few years will be about organizing, activating, and exhibiting these archives so others can learn, enjoy, and be inspired by all that happened in those ten years. It was a special era and we want to amplify it. Of course, Defibrillator will continue to present performance art events, exhibitions, and discourse at random around the world.
The DFBRL8R team has always been in a state of flux. For better or worse, it was designed that way. Since our inception we have relied on a corps of volunteers. Far more than labor, our crew of creative misfits made strange and impossible things happen while having a blast and making lifelong connections.
After some time we shaped this energy into the DFBRL8R Apprentice Program. Accepted applicants made long-term commitments to our organization in exchange for artistic support, guidance, and a final group exhibition. Extremely rewarding, this community building has resulted in meaningful friendships, creative collaborations, and professional connections all over the world. The downside of this program is that it resulted in inconsistent administrative and technical support.
We have always been in a state of flux but right now our team is non-existent. “We” is really “Me” with Joseph Ravens pulling all the strings. That’s how we’re rolling at the moment. We’re in a holding pattern. Our Board of Directors is nebulous, as is much of our administration. The pandemic disrupted our already fragile organizational structure and we are still in recovery…trying to figure out the best way to move forward. Next year, 2024, DFBRL8R will focus on rebuilding our team and finding order in our administrative and organizational structure.