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Autograf: The Art Installation That Became a Band

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When attending a live show, an artist’s visual component can prove to be just as important as the sounds coming from the speakers. Brightly colored lights, lasers and graphic visuals projected on a screen are commonly seen, but how often are the artists actually building their own stage aesthetic with their own hands? Chicago-based Autograf began as an art project, then morphed into a musical group playing live electronica. For each show, members Jake Carpenter, Louis Kha and Mikul Wing conceptualize and create visuals to complete their unique ambience.

Autograf incorporates its art projects during live performances and around the city of Chicago. For one of its first projects, the group built an eight-foot tall Andy Warhol-inspired sculpture of a soup can for the stage. More recently the group created a series of street-art pieces around Chicago that revolved around its latest single, “Don’t Worry." The artists incorporated inspirational as well as whimsical sayings like Don’t worry, live life or Don’t worry, eat ice cream into their creations that went up last month. They have even added lights to their instruments to better engage the audience and create a more interactive experience.

We talked with Louis Kha and Mikul Wing to discover more about the band’s origin, how they tour with their projects, and their approach to art and music.

Westword: Could you tell me about your backgrounds in both art and music before Autograf formed?

Kha: We had known each other for years before the group formed, and then we became a group and branded it as something we could all get behind. Mikul and Jake both had their own projects [before Autograf]; Jake is a welder and a sculptor. They would link together and create things. When we formed the group, they became teachers to me. It started as an art project, then morphed into music. It collected some buzz online,and we started to add instruments to shows and live sets, becoming a hybrid electronic band. We lost sight of the art aspect, but we are hitting it again this year with more art. When a new song comes out, we do a project revolving around that song, so there is an art and music component for each song.

Wing: The original concept was to transform the stage into an art installation, where everyone feels involved…like they’re on stage too. [The project] started as pop art, and then we added instruments.

How do you travel with your projects and installations while touring?

Kha: It’s not practical to travel with a suitcase. When we’re flying around with our stuff, we keep everything under seventy pounds. Typically, we’ll be at the airport with three checked bags, a carry-on and a personal item that is way bigger than it should be [laughs]. People will ask, “How do y'all fly with that?” But our stage setup is built around how we can travel with it. On a bus tour, we can bring more with us. It opened up more possibilities. We're just flowing with what comes our way and then designing around that.

What did the name Autograf stem from?

Kha: It’s this idea of what people do to inspire and leave behind in the world…leaving your mark and pursuing your passions. We want people to be conscious [that] everything they do or say makes a difference. An autograph is a physical mark, their signature. What we’re doing is meaningful and impactful, and we encourage others to do the same.

What has been one of your favorite projects or installations thus far?

Wing: The process of whatever we’re currently doing is the most fun. We usually have a lot of people hanging out and working on it [with us]. This project is meant to be like a hobby. We don’t necessarily have a larger goal in mind. We’re just doing whatever is interesting to us at the time.

Kha: The project’s evolution is similar to life in general: dealing with unexpected twists and paths. We didn’t imagine doing this live electronic thing, but we’re really enjoying it.

Autograf will perform this Friday, October 21, at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, with Goldroom and Melvv.

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