The artist Edie Fake is, in his own words, a “buildings nerd.” His latest book, Memory Palaces, which collects 16 vibrantly patterned drawings that reimagine lost queer spaces in Chicago, debuts at this weekend’s MoCCA Arts Fest at the 69th Regiment Armory.
“When I first moved back to Chicago a few years ago,” Fake recalls, “there was something about the queer history in the city that seemed just below the surface.” Researching that history via advertisements in the backs of vintage gay magazines — including Clothesdick, “the international magazine about clothed men” — Fake found queer bars, theaters, and clubs that no longer exist in the city, and gave them elaborate new facades wrought from his mind’s eye. Memory Palaces is the result of that reimagining.
Fake considers each of these elaborately illustrated palaces as a “resource for the present.” The facades – which recall everything from the decorative tiles of Islamic architecture to 8-bit video game levels — exist on paper but cannot be found in the real world, and the flattened perspective of each frees the buildings and their decorations from the demands of the natural world of building. “It’s almost like the structure of the building starts to evaporate and it just becomes a pile of ornamentation,” Fake notes, describing the process of transferring each idea to the page.
When searching for ornamentation that feels like it belongs to a particular palace, Fake is keen on “cruising history for things that make sense.” Though the work isn’t entirely tied to the past. “It’s partially an intuitive process,” he says. “I draw heavily from the aura of buildings I like around town.”
Like a grand queer Xanadu, Memory Palaces celebrates locales like “Club LaRay,” a dizzying composition that rewards close inspection, sending your eye through the space to soak up the richness of each visual element. A repeating spectrum pattern oscillates with electricity as though lit up on the page, and a domed pediment suggests what further extravagances may be found inside.
The repetition and density of ornamentation feels meditative, both as an observer and when appreciating Fake’s diligence in execution: “There’s a slow process, where the background gets filled in with ballpoint pen, and my hands are doing stuff but my brain is problem-solving,” he says. “Ornamentation seems to come naturally from that.”
The ideas and conflicts that Fake embodies as a trans artist are also present in the architecture, beyond each palace’s queer subject matter. By creating a space that’s separate from the physical and fueled by unlimited potential, these buildings are like trans bodies. They find structure and beauty in the progress of formation and the resulting space they define, separate from the rigid and confining demands of the supposedly real, heteronormative world.
“The neighborhood of Memory Palaces expands. It is something that grows outward, so that you can keep walking through it,” the artist says. The viewer contributes to the possibility of each space by further imagining what goes on inside of it. However soaked in loss Memory Palaces might appear, it is ultimately hopeful because it demands that the viewer think about creating what they want see in the material world. The work is, as Fake says, “a springboard for making mental architecture.”
Allowing these imagined spaces to exist without the rules of construction or building material ties them more strongly to the element of memory, as well: Things you remember are not as they actually were, and the work we make as artists never comes out quite the way we plan. Memory Palaces reminds us that beauty lies in the process of forming and retaining memories and experience, and the physical ways we let that beauty manifest in the world.