Welcome to Mortville

By HermineBloom

In a shantytown made up of rapists, murderers and forgotten people, heaps of rotten garbage block their doorways yet no one expresses disgust toward the pungent scent. Instead, the wildly eccentric people who live here—like a stripper with just one arm—are deceptively content living in squalor. This is Mortville—a haven for the misunderstood, the homeless and the creative-minded. Those who aren’t concerned with social status or competition live in the Mort, which is the alternate world originally conceived by director John Waters for his 1977 film “Desperate Living.”

If the outrageous plot of the film is any indication, often times outcasts consciously choose to remain outcasts or, at the very least, they surround themselves with similar types of people.

Today, Mortville exists on the third floor of a warehouse in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago at 2106 S. Kedzie Ave. Local punk bands perform underneath dangling cryptic dolls and cardboard sets resembling that of an abandoned scene from a deeply romantic play production line the walls. Though the address number is spray painted on the industrial front door, the floorboards scuffed and the walls graffitied, 20-somethings who live at 2106 S. Kedzie Ave. describe living in their version of Mortville as a fantasy come true.

“I live in my dream tree house,” said 25-year-old resident Clayton Roache. “What I thought the best place to live would be when I was 13 is where I’m living right now.”

However unconventional it seems to wake up in an open, industrial warehouse, the perks of living in Mortville have to do purely with being constantly creative and expressive—committing to a lifestyle fully dedicated to movies, music and visual art.

“Walking through the sets just becomes so normal,” said resident Sara Heymann, 25. “We don’t even notice it anymore. And there’s no reason for us to ever be bored here. We can make as much noise as we want. We have tons of tools and tons of neighbors to just hang out with and do whatever we want to do. Our neighbors are those dream neighbors that you have that you just hang out with, you’re always lending each other stuff and helping each other out. You can’t get that in regular apartment buildings.”

In March of 2008, Pratt University alumna Heymann and her three roommates hosted what they called a $5 dollar convenience store art sale in Mortville, (though it had yet to be named then), where they sold affordable, quirky pieces of art, she said.

Since then, residents of the third floor have embraced their unconventional space by building theoretical movie sets using different tools and mediums to create installations.

“We wanted to do something in the space, but we didn’t want it to be an art gallery,” Heymann said. “We wanted to create a different world.”

“The Apocalypse,” or a series of cardboard rooms with fake stairs, couches and mundane, everyday objects, is currently showcased at Mortville, which was made possible by The United Container Corporation, who donates corrugated materials to them.

“We kind of made it feel like a honky-tonk art deco lounge,” Heymann said. “We love having projects with a goal where we all get to work together with different styles, mediums and materials. We worked on stained glass windows for our project, dummies, stages, rooms, [etc]. [There’s] all sorts of stuff all over the place. Everything we’ve ever learned can come together.”

The art, however, only stays up for about two months before Heymann and her roommates tear it apart. She explained that it takes about a month to a month and-a-half to remake giant cardboard installations when they work all day, everyday, which is what they’re accustomed to.

The same genuine work ethic not only applies to Heymann’s roommates’ attitude toward building the art installations, but also mirrors their collective opinion toward what bands they let perform or who they’d like to see attend one of their shows.

“We don’t want people who want to be cool,” Heymann said. “We want people that are outcasts, that are down to help—who are hardworking, honest people. We’re open to every single kind of person and we’re open to every kind of music.”

Primarily though, Mortville books punk rock bands, but as Heymann explained, “Different scenes branch off into other scenes and then that scene comes.”

The majority of the people who attend their shows aren’t, in fact, personal friends of Roache, Heymann, Eric Reading, 26, or their fourth roommate, who isn’t heavily involved in the production of Mortville.

“Actually, 95 percent of the people who show up aren’t close friends of ours,” Roache said.

In order to promote their venue, Heymann said they go to plenty of shows similar to the kinds of shows that they throw, which are more underground and showcase really dedicated, talented musicians. They constantly hand out flyers, tape them up in record store windows or even leave them on the tables of their favorite restaurants after a meal, Roache said.

Chicago, unlike, say, Brooklyn or San Francisco, is unique in that these types of basement shows are usually put on uninterrupted. The second floor of 2106 S. Kedzie Ave, known as Treasure Town, houses large skate ramps and a giant movie projector. These aforementioned neighbors help those who live in Mortville to build their art and book their shows.

Chris Saporito, 22, attends Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren St; studying EMT Medicine, plays guitar in punk band Moon Rock Whiz Kid and said he and his seven other roommates make their way to Mortville at least once a day to help or simply just hang out. San Francisco native Saporito shares the same attitude as Roache and Heymann when it comes to community and Chicago’s underground music scene.

“That’s the biggest perk about Chicago is its basement shows,” Saporito said. “I mean, in California in the past couple of years they’ve shut down all of their small venues and they’ve cracked down on house party shows. There are no basements in California on the northern side. Shows are limited and people usually charge a lot and here you can’t charge;

it’s suggested.”

Heymann, who works part-time in a Chicago costume rental shop during the week, has lived in Brooklyn and Berlin, for extended periods of time, although she and her friends went to Stevenson High School and therefore calls Chicago her home in more ways than one.

“Chicago doesn’t have the museums or the galleries that New York does, but it has this spirit of  ‘I’m making this because this is what I love to do and, you know, whatever,’” Heymann said. “In New York it’s like, ‘I’m making this so someone can see it and then I’m going to be able to be famous for the rest of my life.’ The rent is very expensive; everyone was always working jobs and tired. It’s hard to fit in hang out time, painting time and job time.”

Between hosting live shows every weekend at Mortville since September 2009 and rebuilding art installations every two months, ideas for new projects are always free-flowing rather than stifled because they’re used to being creative every day.

Currently, Heymann and Roache are on the look out for video artists to collaborate with in their space. They also plan to host movie screenings this summer and build their newest installation, which Heymann said should be more “nook-based and sprawling” than “Apocalypse.”