The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food, 2015–2019

The Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food was an experimental project space and repository for thousands of collage and assemblage works made by artist Thomas Kong. Housed in an adapted storage room behind the convenience store Kong managed in Rogers Park, The Back Room began as a collaboration between Kong and artist Dan Miller in 2015, with assistance from Nathan Abhalter Smith.

From October 2015 to March 2019 The Back Room invited artists and thinkers whose practices intersected with Kong’s in various ways to produce a series of public exhibitions, events and performances in the space. These projects each proceeded from a horizontal engagement with Kong’s unique art practice and working context, and were intended to develop conversations around the art field’s relationship to production, visibility, history, hierarchy and value.

What follows on this page is an archive of projects at The Back Room.
Robin Hustle, Ruth-in-Residence, presents:

Careful Material Book Release

Saturday March 16, 2019, 2-6PM

Join us for the release of Careful Material, ed. Robin Hustle, a publication that celebrates and engages Thomas Kong’s art practice and convenience store, Kim’s Corner Food. Careful Material emerges out of Robin Hustle’s tenure as ‘Ruth-in-Residence’ in 2018 as part of The Back Room Residencies.

The event will feature readings and performances by CM contributors Grace PT Tran, Sara Heymann, Fionnuala Cook, Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson, Marnie Galloway, and Nance Klehm, with ceramics and soup by Ruth aka Robin Hustle.

Careful Material is $10
Free book with purchase of artwork by Thomas Kong.

This book release will be the final event presented by The Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food. The Back Room began its activities in October 2015, and during its three-and-a-half years has hosted fourteen exhibitions, four residencies and numerous events and performances. Although The Back Room's program will be coming to an end, Thomas Kong continues his work at Kim’s Corner Food and the store remains open daily.

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Alejandro T. Acierto, Archivist-in-Residence, presents:

Kills time
July 21 – July 27, 2018

Opening: Saturday July 21, 2018, 5-7PM

I have a little time, you know, time to kill, time to kill.
—Thomas Kong in an interview with Dan Miller, 2015

“Throughout the month of July, I’ve had some time to kill, which is also to say that I’m waiting to leave, waiting to be elsewhere, and killing time with Thomas Kong. Suspended in time, I sort through Kong’s work, finding moments where he’s done the same: layers of one-inch pieces of tape keep leaves from changing color, holding their shape, and preventing future damage. Removed from natural processes of decomposition, and placed out of time, Kong saves fragments of his world for the tests of time, from being elsewhere, and staying here. Here, in this uncertain time, Kong saves moments for us that would otherwise be forgotten, moments that need to be here later.

For me, the archivist with finite time (as any archivist might say), I can only intervene at this point in time, intervene on what Kong’s work says about time, on what his work can do for time, even in the limited time I have left here before I’m elsewhere.

Here, I am tasked to kill time.

With him, I wonder how to preserve moments like his, moments before I leave, moments for later. How do I begin to keep moments in a time of uncertainty?

In this time with Kong, I wonder how to begin preserving a different future, how to collect what is needed, how to keep what is there later for here now. I want to kill time to restore the pace of accelerative terror. I want to slow down. Breathe. Tend to our wounds and prevent time from taking its toll. And so in the interest of time, which is to say here, in this time, I am reaching for the future.

But for now, we must kill time together.”
Alejandro T. Acierto

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Jesse Malmed, Dramaturge-in-Residence, presents:

Some Things Should Go!
With a special auction from world-renowned auctioneer Richard Wright and other special guests

Saturday June 23, 2018, 4-7PM
(Auction at 5PM)

Some Things Should Go! is a blowout sales event and performance series meant to facilitate the cultural exchange of ideas and materials through embodied performance tropes, exhibition aesthetics and critical approaches to attuned ambivalence in late capitalism. Witness and work with the swift, elegant auctioneer; the eager, winking flea marketer; the connected and contacted gallerist; the earnest, virtue-signaled nodder of artisanship. Bring money to buy some of the best and most interesting work in Chicago. As pseudonym Jeffy Malone reminds us by DM, "this is about getting a bit more space into Thomas' space, more wallet into Thomas' wallet and more Thomas into everyone else's life".”
Jesse Malmed

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Jesse Malmed, Dramaturge-in-Residence, presents:

Collage Rock / Ten Tiny Plays / Teared Up: A Film Screening

Saturday June 9, 2018, 4-6PM

Living music by Thomas Comerford, Madeleine Aguilar and More TK

Collaging films by Jodie Mack, Selina Trepp, Amy Lockhart, Michael Robinson, Ben Popp and Jacob Ciocci in America’s micro-est cinema

Ten Tiny Plays by Dramaturge-in-Residence Jesse Malmed (Expectund, Self-Portrait Booth, Reading the Room, Marcel Universe, [Former] Letter Ladder, etc.)

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The Back Room Residencies
May 1 – October 31, 2018

We are pleased to announce The Back Room Residencies, a six-month-long series of residencies in The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food, beginning in May and running through the end of October.

These four residencies, made possible by our 2017 Propeller Fund grant, are conceived as platforms for experimental responses to the ongoing project of The Back Room, and its unique context in the realm of Kim's Corner Food and Thomas Kong's practice.

1371 West Estes Avenue is decidedly a site of production—as we begin this residency series, we are excited to transition the focus of our programming from an exhibition space to a nakedly work-in-progress-driven operation.

To this end, the four artists in the series have each chosen a description of their position which diverges from the standard moniker 'artist'—Jesse Malmed will act as Dramturge-in-Residence (aka Titler-in-Residence, Helper-in-Residence, Salesman-in-Residence), Alejandro T. Acierto as Archivist-in-Residence, Aram Han Sifuentes as Gyopo-in-Residence, and Robin Hustle will be Ruth-in-Residence.

Stay tuned for more information about events and activities planned by each of our residents over the coming six months!

The Back Room Residencies are supported by the Propeller Fund, a regional re-granting program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food is a 2017 Propeller Fund awardee.
Janenne Eaton
The Yellow Brick Wall
March 10, 2018 – April 15, 2018

Catalog Launch: Saturday March 24, 4–7PM

Download Catalog PDF here

The exhibition, by the Melbourne, Australia-based artist Janenne Eaton, provides a timely opportunity for us to once again make a connection between Chicago and Melbourne. It was in 2016 at Thomas Kong's exhibition TCB, at the long-running Melbourne artist-run space TCB art inc., where Eaton was first introduced to Kong's work and community.

TCB at TCB followed soon after Eaton's solo project FENCES B/ORDERS WALLS was mounted at the same venue. Her project at The Back Room extends upon concerns central to that exhibition, and Eaton's larger practice over her four-decade career.

In the artist's absence, the exhibition will be celebrated with a catalog launch on Saturday March 24. A limited edition booklet, including reproductions of Janenne Eaton's and Thomas Kong's work alongside essays by Eaton and Dan Miller, will be provided to all guests.

“It’s a given that who we are, and what we make, is informed by what we watch and read and think, as well as what we stumble upon, and who we meet. It’s true, too, that the least likely material can become the fulcrum for action. That’s how it was with The Yellow Brick Wall, a five-year journey that now leads to The Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food. Melbourne, Australia is a long way from Chicago, but in my mind, and as an attentive child of American ‘soft power’, that’s only geographically so.”
Janenne Eaton
Melbourne, 2018

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Robin Hustle
EAT THIS FACE: An Expressive Food Potluck

Exhibition Closing for SLIT WAVE SHEATH HEARTH
Saturday February 17, 2018, 2-5PM

Please join us for EAT THIS FACE, an expressive food potluck that will conclude SLIT WAVE SHEATH HEARTH in The Back Room by Chicago-based artist Robin Hustle.

For the potluck, bring an expressive dish to share in the form of a face, building, landscape, or feelings. Foods will be documented by Robin Hustle and printed as a zine. Your offering should be aesthetically enchanting, good to eat, and appropriately portioned—the last thing we want is for food to go to waste, so please do not bring anything larger than can be enjoyed together.
Robin Hustle
December 10, 2017 – February 18, 2018

Exhibition Opening Sunday December 10, 2–5PM
w/ Readings & Performances at 3PM
featuring Fionnuala Cook, Marnie Galloway, Sara Heymann, Nance Klehm & Ruby T

SLIT In Semipermeable rooms for working on a nurturance culture, I hold space between public and private, giving and receiving, in five rooms formed by venetian blinds and the stalls of the back room. The blinds give shape to hole-y bodies that shift between positions of helping, needing, lifting, falling, pulling, and levitating. What would a real culture of nurturance look like? What does it look like to push nurturance to the front of anticapitalist dreaming? The rooms are spaces for tending to these questions. Within the rooms, tactile objects and selected works by Thomas Kong stimulate the process.

WAVE Bottom's End is a landscape where my desires and my fears crash against each other in slick black waves.

SHEATH Yes, yellow is still my favorite color, even though there's this permanent haze now, no boundary between day and night, and we can't differentiate between yellow and black. I had to confront the apocalyptic visions that have been disrupting my sleep lately. What would be ahistoric, irrational by day erodes me in the night.

HEARTH Nurturance demands dirty work, in how we hold other people's bodies and emotions, and in the work we need to do on ourselves to get there. I look to sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild for her feminist analysis of affect, labor, and nurturance under capitalism. Anthropologist Mary Douglas elucidates the dangerousness of conceptual pollution, permeability between categories, and the interstitial spaces that show boundaries to be less firm than we imagined them to be. SLIT WAVE SHEATH HEARTH stands for holeness > wholeness. I ask that we rewrite what nurturance means, who is expected to provide it, who is allowed to receive it, and at what cost it is given and taken. I want a public infrastucture of nurturance, against the interests of capital. I want nurturance that straddles boundaries, that interweaves our porous bodies, that reimagines kinship. I've asked Fionnuala Cook, Ruby T, Marnie Galloway, Sara Heymann, and Nance Klehm to be a part of this space because the ferocity of their tenderness for their neighborhoods, children, communities—for strangers—for me—makes a nurturance culture feel possible.
—Robin Hustle

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Meg Duguid
Production of Nuclear Winter
October 22, 2017 – December 3, 2017

For Production of Nuclear Winter, Meg Duguid will use The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food as an extension of her studio to generate Nuclear Winter. By carefully arranging and re-arranging Thomas Kong's collage inventory along with Duguid's hand-cut propaganda, she will perform within a constructed winter landscape to create and document micro-installations throughout the space. The documentation from this exhibition will be used as part of the Tramp Project.

With the Tramp Project, Duguid optioned the rights to and is adapting James Agee’s script The Tramp’s New World – originally written for Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character – into a project that addresses her interest in the congruity of performance and its documentation as an intersection for aesthetic practice. Throughout the Tramp Project, Duguid is generating a set that is a platform for a series of performances. The result of those performances will be a fully edited feature and cinema experience, a series of objects and sets, and a series of production stills, all of which can be interchanged in various exhibitions and screenings that continue to loop from performance to documentation and back to performance again. 

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Propeller Fund 2017
awarded to The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food

Award Ceremony and Reception
Thursday, October 19, 2017, 6–8pm
Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60613

We are thrilled that The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food has been announced as one of ten Propeller Fund awardees for 2017. Propeller Fund is part of a national network of regional re-granting programs funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation, and aims to stimulate the growth of small, self-organized, and radical projects in Chicago’s visual art world.

Thank you to all our collaborators and co-conspirators over the past two years. We're looking forward to doing much more with many more of you in the future.
Aaron Walker
I heard it in the produce aisle
Exhibition closing and listening party
Saturday October 14, 2017, 3-5PM

“To close out my exhibition with Thomas Kong in the Back Room I’ll be playing a mixtape made for the occasion — a cassette collage consisting of bits and bops of canned music formerly pumped into groceries, of tunes recorded in locales more interesting than the songs themselves, of pocket field recordings, of forgotten jingles, and of the sounds of other slashies.

A number of these tapes (what number that is, I’m not sure) will be available to stuff in your pocket and take home for future slashie lifestyle event soundtracking, as in when you’re walking the dog while cutting the grass, and so on. A handful of new collages, Back Room adjustments, and Front Room snacks will be available for things other than your ears.

Many thanks to Thomas and Dan for hosting and instigating, hats off to these lovers of stacked hats!”
Aaron Walker

Aaron Walker
/ e
August 19, 2017 – October 14, 2017

“For this project I will look to Kim’s Corner Food as a hyphenated whole, a corner shop-artist studio-gallery-showroom-recycling center (surely there’s more?).

Drawing upon the restless pictographic invention of Thomas’ collages and the idiosyncratic, fortuitous and deeply contextual exhibition space that is The Back Room, the show will imagine likeminded, one-roof-multiple-identity enterprises.

By conjuring new slashies, I will consider the ad hoc spaces in which culture—perhaps not always art, but certainly something similar—is produced and disseminated.”
Aaron Walker

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Ruby T
May 28, 2017 – July 30, 2017


Annette LePique, 'Ruby T “TENSES” at The Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food', Chicago Artist Writers, June 2017

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Michael Robert Pollard
Big Shoulders
April 16, 2017 – May 14, 2017

out of my world into  a page with glaring teeth and blaring lips, but no other facial features. The work is clever and highly potent with meaning; I'd love to be the person who writes the dialogue explaining all that! Anyway, that's a start...if you like what I'm saying, I'll continue...

 WTF Halloween was yesterday.

 at the first glance the work conveys simplicity but if you stay still for just a minute and ponder the visual only then will you begin to understand the depth of the emotional, social, political message

 inspired by what he sees and hope to see, film, comic books, music, media, can make art on any surface not afraid of getting dirty, it's always time to paint, children inspire your work, art expression is therapy,

 never did me a lick of harm... except for psychological problems and blurred vision.

 a unique take on many currents to the world today, such as primitivism, found objects and references to comic book art. He combines them in a very individual way to provide a valuable commentary on the urban world he inhabits.

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Starworld Anna Kim
At Starworld Right Now
February 18, 2017 – April 8, 2017

For this exhibition, Thomas Kong chose to invite the Chicago-based Korean-American artist Starworld Anna Kim. At Starworld Right Now is her first solo project.

“I am 32 years old and soon to be 33 years old. I am an adult and also I am a baby. I am a starworld and I live in starworld. Starworld is me my self and the place I fill with my work that I create with my heart and soul. I love my starworld and I am trying to figure out how starworld can travel the world and this show is my first destination.

My starworld and my work hugs me every moment when I need its hugs. I imagine my starworld traveling around the world and hugging people's hearts when they really need a hug. Isn't this going to be super duper lovely?”
—Starworld Anna Kim

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Jenn Smith
Name In Vain
December 11, 2016 – February 12, 2017

Color these fish.
Cut them out.
Punch a hole in the top of each fish.
Put a ribbon through all the holes.

Tie these fish together.
Now read what is written on these fish:
Jesus is a friend.
Jesus gathers friends.
I am a friend of Jesus.

—Lydia Davis, “Grade Two Assignment”

Margaret Carrigan, 'Exploring Evangelism: Jenn Smith’s “Name in Vain” at Chicago’s The Back Room', Blouin Artinfo, January 2017

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Max Guy
Sotoba Komachi
October 22 – December 4, 2016

“For Sotoba Komachi, I will use transform The Back Room into the set of Yukio Mishima's play of the same name. Adapted from a Noh Drama, Sotoba Komachi tells the story of a drunken poet who confronts an old woman in a park at night, disgusted by the presence of an old woman amidst the lovers who desire privacy. He subsequently finds himself enthralled in the tale of her youthful beauty, and possessed by the spirit of her former lover.

With Halloween approaching, a tale of love, delusion, drunkenness and death seems all too appropriate. I hope to complement the horror vacui of Kim's Corner Food—Thomas Kong's de facto studio—with an installation that evokes the stillness of an autumn night.”
—Max Guy

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Yukio Mishima's Sotoba Komachi
Adapted & Directed by Max Guy
Saturday December 3, 2016, 3-5 PM
Performances at 3:15 PM and 4:15 PM

“For Sotoba Komachi, I hoped to complement the immensity of Kim’s Corner Food with an equally immersive—albeit silent—installation. I have constructed a theater set, dimly light by the amber glow of streetlights. Dead leaves are scattered across the ground, and a tree branch casts a shadow across the theater floor. I have adapted playwright and author Yukio Mishima’s play of the same title, which itself was an adaptation of the eponymous classic Noh drama.

Sotoba Komachi places its audience within a nighttime scene. The play tells the story of a drunk and belligerent poet in a park at night, as he creeps on the lovers who wish to be alone. He is disgusted and offended by the presence of Komachi, an ugly old lady who wanders the park at night counting cigarette butts. He engages with her and slowly falls in love, possessed by the ghost of her dead lover. I have reduced the number of cast members and hidden them behind cardboard figures constructed of Thomas Kong’s collages, which are backlit, and held together by paperclips. While the script has not been modified, certain portions of the script now function as a chorus, recited by the entire cast.

Today seems appropriate to adapt a drama of love, death and drunkenness, written by Mishima: a masterful author and one of the most romantic of right-wing extremists.

Yukio Mishima is the pen name of Kimitake Hiraoka (January 14, 1925 – November 25, 1970), a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor, and film director. Mishima is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century. He was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 but the award went to his fellow countryman Yasunari Kawabata. His works include the novels Confessions of a Mask and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and the autobiographical essay Sun and Steel. His avant-garde work displayed a blending of modern and traditional aesthetics that broke cultural boundaries, with a focus on sexuality, death, and political change. Mishima was active as a nationalist and founded his own right-wing militia. He is remembered for his ritual suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d'état attempt, known as the “Mishima Incident”.
—Max Guy

Alice Tippit
Don't Hate the Sky
August 7 – October 16, 2016

“When I think about Thomas Kong’s work I am struck by the persistent use of cardboard as a default component of his collages. Its use is tied to its availability—which also allows it to be forgotten.

What cannot be overlooked is the unorthodox back room of Kim’s Corner Food. Its white washed stalls force an altar-like read of artworks installed therein.

For this exhibition the walls of The Back Room will serve as my cardboard. The installation speaks to a point where Thomas's and my work intersect: in a shared fascination with the graphic and the poetic possibilities of signs.”
Alice Tippit

During the run of the exhibition, Thomas made interventions to Alice Tippit's initial installation using work from his own archive.

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REALFAKE: Joshua Kent and Thomas Kong
July 10 – August 1, 2016

The Back Room presents REALFAKE, an exhibition conceived by Chicago-based artist Joshua Kent as a conversation between his and Thomas Kong’s practice. Working primarily in collage and simple sculpture, both artists engage the language of advertising and the materiality of everyday life, made invisible by the systems producing them. Responding to personal live/work realities of commodification, waste, and excess (Kong from the perspective of the corner store where he works and Kent the homeless shelter he resides at and manages), both artists utilize materials gleaned from the waste stream to construct their work.

REALFAKE is intended to examine each artist’s transformation of these materials through distinct personal vocabularies—Kong through a precise editorial process obscuring source information and streamlining packaging content, laying bare concrete pleasures of form and color, and Kent through an embellishment of visual excess, over-saturated in stimuli and conflicting desires.

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The Robbery: Selected by Jason Lazarus
April 16 – June 20, 2016

The Robbery is a new installation of 2D & 3D work from the archive of Thomas Kong, selected by Florida-based artist Jason Lazarus. The title Lazarus has given the exhibition makes reference to its feature work, built upon the destroyed remains of the previous cash register at Kim's Corner Food—a momentary pause in the ongoing formal experimentation by Kong that continues twelve hours a day, seven days a week.

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Selected by Steven Husby
January 24 – April 4, 2016

A selection of Thomas Kong’s work in The Back Room, chosen by Chicago-based artist Steven Husby, accompanied by the launch of a new zine by Steven, using material from Thomas' archive. Towards the end of the exhibition period, Steven Husby's installation was gradually modified and expanded by Thomas Kong.

"It seems to me the work is full of hieratic motifs arranged frontally like hieroglyphs – stacks of iconic shapes loaded with archetypal significance – plants reaching upward, drops of fire or water, (magic?)mushrooms, scrolls – balanced on either side of compositional fulcrum points like the scales of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the afterlife tasked with weighing the heart of the deceased against the weight of a feather of Ma’at, the goddess of order, truth, and righteousness. For me, the center of the book, and the central axis in my previous painting serve a similar dual function – both creating an internal fictive edge to rival the literal edge of the support, and providing a kind of zero point or aporia in the composition, standing for an aporia in the work itself – a blind spot from which the work’s agency emanates. For Thomas I think this site of generosity and sovereign largess is occupied by God. God decides. For myself – I do not know what lies beyond the margin – I only know that it calls out, and that decisions are made. My work is an attempt to answer that call, and in that I think Thomas and I are alike."
—Steven Husby, January 2016

Purchase Steven Husby's zine, BE HAPPY, online at Margin Creep

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Selected by Maddie Reyna
October 25, 2015 – January 21, 2016

The first selection of Thomas Kong’s work in The Back Room, chosen by Chicago-based artist Maddie Reyna.

This exhibition evolved following Maddie's initial selection and hang, as Thomas regularly added and shuffled new work into the installation.

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About the Back Room

The Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food is an experimental project space and repository for thousands of collage and assemblage works made by artist Thomas Kong over the past decade. Housed in an adapted storage room behind the convenience store Kong manages in Rogers Park, The Back Room began as a collaboration between Kong and artist Dan Miller in 2015, with ongoing assistance from Nathan Abhalter Smith.

Since October 2015 The Back Room has invited artists and thinkers whose practices intersect with Kong’s in various ways to produce a series of public exhibitions, events and performances in the space. These projects each proceed from a horizontal engagement with Kong’s unique art practice and working context, and are intended to develop conversations around the art field’s relationship to production, visibility, history, hierarchy and value.

Visitors to The Back Room are also welcome to view work in the archive at their leisure. The room contains a fold-out table, two chairs, and a ladder for this purpose.

The Back Room at Kim's Corner Food is open during advertised events and by appointment. To make an appointment, email

Regrettably, The Back Room is not wheelchair accessible.

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