Sprouting anew

Chikoko takes over 1078 Gallery with group installation

A cozy corner of the Chikoko Pod exhibit at 1078 Gallery. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Of the many colorful buildings lining Park Avenue in South Chico, the 1078 Gallery—with its vibrant orange exterior, sky-blue trim and florid exterior murals—is among the most vibrant. Throughout this month, the building’s colorful interior will rival its kaleidoscopic outer walls as art/fashion collective Chikoko commandeers the gallery space for its first post-pandemic art event, Pod.

The group is transforming the space into a “jungle-like landscape with unrecognizable specimens,” according to the official description of the exhibit. Muir Hughes—who is one-third of Chikoko, along with Nel Adams and Sara Rose Bonetti—met with the CN&R about a week before the installation to give more insight about what to expect.

“The name and idea is meant to embody sort of emerging plant life, but in an abstracted way,” she said. “People might recognize plant-like shapes, but its going to be sort of twisted and warped.”

The art will be mostly made in Chikoko’s primary medium—fabric and textiles—with lots of recycled material also incorporated.

“It’s going to be very colorful, very bold, and we’re looking to transform the space,” she continued. “So it’s not going to be a typical gallery show with paintings on the wall and lots of negative space … some of the pieces are big enough for people to climb inside.

“We want it to be like everything is emerging, all tangled up, wild and overwhelmingly abundant.”

Chikoko and friends help campers make art during Beer Camp at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in May. (Photo courtesy of Chikoko)

In addition to its relationship to seeds and new growth, the word “pod”—as in a small group of family and/or friends isolated together from the greater population—is one of those terms that’s become associated with the COVID-19 crisis. This double meaning is intentional, Hughes said.

“We came up with the theme during our annual beginning-of-the year meeting, while talking about what we were feeling and what we could do artistically,” Hughes said. “Emergence was the theme that kept coming up … the pod, the seed, the creativity that’s been just waiting. We know we’re not through the pandemic, but [Pod] is supposed to be uplifting. Sprouting, emerging, flowering … something more hopeful than the place we’re coming from.”

Hughes said Chikoko was in its own COVID pod in a virtual sense: “We met often online and talked about a lot of ideas and came up with a lot of plans for the future, but we didn’t really physically see each other.”

The group, which has been together since 2005, also mostly stepped away from the annual events it hosts. Hughes said she and her cohorts are uncertain when their annual fashion show—a venerated local happening that typically draws crowds of more than 1,000—will return.

“All of our events are very public oriented … even when we do visual arts, there’s always interactive elements,” Hughes said. “We’ll eventually do a fashion show for sure, but I’m not sure [about this year]. It’s challenging because they’re so big, and we want to look out for everyone’s best interests and health concerns.”

Chikoko wasn’t completely out of the public eye, though. They held an online costume show early in the pandemic and a craft supplies exchange at the Chico Women’s Club in February. The Bizarre Bazaar, a flea-market-type event with dozens of vendors, returned last December after a year-long COVID hiatus. And, most recently, they ran a crafting station at Sierra Nevada Brewery’s Beer Camp last month.

“Beer Camp was great,” Hughes said. “There were more than 5,000 people there over the course of the weekend, and it was a fun thing to do to interact with the public and get creative with people.”

Bottom: Chikoko member Muir Hughes poses at home with pieces she worked on for the collective’s Pod exhibit. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Hughes said Pod will be the first exhibit that Chikoko has held at 1078 Gallery, though the troupe has appeared in support of other artists’ shows: “Sometimes friends and other artists reach out when they want a performative aspect, so we’ve showed up and [done] something … weird.”

In preparing Pod, the three members of Chikoko mostly worked alone from home, with larger pieces coming together at the group’s shared studio/storage space. Hughes said most of the show will be an installation with large pieces that people will move around, through and sometimes into. There will be an interactive section on the stage where visitors can move pieces to construct their own Pod-like creations. A few smaller pieces will be for sale.

Though partly pandemic inspired, Hughes emphasized that Pod is not intended to be about the collective trauma, sorrow, upheaval and confusion that’s run amuck the last two-plus years.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” she said. “There may be underlying issues we were working through in making the art … but we want it to be fun.”

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