For better or worse, the American indie-rock touring circuit is clogged with fabled acts celebrating some kind of anniversary. But a nostalgia trip wasn't what multidisciplinary Chicago artist Tim Kinsella had in mind for Joan of Arc, the band he fronts, which is often categorized as "indie rock" even though it's deeply experimental in practice. So how does a group that makes what Kinsella describes as "music for no audience" ring in two decades of existence? With a visual-arts show: "JOA20," opening June 4 at Elastic Arts.
The event is appropriate for the group, and not just because it's an unorthodox proposition. "Many of the members are practicing visual artists just as equally devoted to that discipline as band-life," Kinsella said via e-mail.
"JOA20" features music too—every Tuesday beginning June 21, various offshoots of Joan of Arc will perform (though JOA won't). That's a loaded lineup: dozens of musicians have played on Joan of Arc records, and in his essay for the "JOA20" program Kinsella cites 23 others as integral contributors to the band, including engineers such as veteran soundman Elliot Dicks. Joan of Arc's current core roster—Kinsella, Theo Katsaounis, Melina Ausikaitis, Bobby Burg, and Jeremy Boyle—will DJ the opening-night festivities, and they've also contributed art to the exhibit.
Joan of Arc's brazenly eclectic catalog is partially due to fusion, and the works in "JOA20" provide an alternative view of the individual elements that give the band its voice. Ausikaitis supplies a mixed-media work that brings together tube socks, canvas, and the Sonic Youth logo. Lin Hixson, cofounder of the experimental-theater ensemble Every House Has a Door, chips in the minimalist stage design she produced for Testimonium, a collaborative performance piece she did with Joan of Arc in 2013 (the band's album from the same year, Testimonium Songs, came out of the project). Kinsella supplies pages from The Communist Manifesto he's pockmarked with orange, blue, and pink highlighters. This work in particular is strangely inviting—it's easy to get frustrated by the messy colors, but the coded notes are absorbing.
The stylistically broad collection reminds me of what Kinsella writes about Joan of Arc in his program essay: "We are all free at every moment, together and alone, to throw away any and every part of our own pasts that no longer serve us. And now our own tastes, emerging collectively, were the only relevant standard." v