The haunted house was a hit, and A.J. was asked to come back and do it again the next year. That second haunted house was even more popular, and Danny and Doug Marks, the owners (and brothers) of Emporium were impressed. They owned several businesses in town, as well as a vacant bar next door to Emporium. Danny and Doug were in the process of trying to figure out what to do with that space.
A.J. discussed with them the idea of turning the space into a revolving theme bar, where they could create interactive spaces that had limited runs, some a week-long, some as long as 6 weeks or more. With the success of the haunted houses, Danny and Doug knew A.J. could pull off something like this, and so, Emporium Pop-Ups was born!
Over the course of 18 months, A.J. and the Anarchitype crew designed and built over 40 pop-ups, including the now-infamous Stranger Things popup, as well as collaborations with an extensive list of brands and other artists. His residency at Emporium no-doubt played a pivotal role in establishing the now thriving “Chicago pop-up scene”. It was not long before nearly every bar in town was doing pop-up art installations.
A.J. takes pride in knowing that he helped interactive art become mainstream in a way that did not exist before. The inclusion of art installations in businesses over the last few years has provided numerous jobs for working artists in Chicago (and beyond), and will likely continue to do so for many more years to come.
“When the Stranger Things pop up happened, I actually said a few times, man, you’re gonna see after this, there’s gonna be a pop-up in almost every storefront. Every bar is gonna start doing stuff like this. And I could be salty about that, you know, some people would be like, “all these people are just copying me”. But I was like, “I think that’s freaking amazing if that happens!” It’s just going to create value in art. It’s going to create jobs for artists.
Right now, there are a ton of knock-off pop-ups around, and when I tell people I did the original ones, they say, ‘oh, you do the ones that are in this arcade bar or this one?’ And I’m like, ‘no, no, it was Emporium, a couple of years ago.’ But that means that there are probably hundreds of people, you know, college art students and people like that, and they’re actually getting budgets to do art now. Unlike small theaters, bars can rake in 10 grand a night, so they’re actually gonna throw a budget to a theater kid to do an art installation that you wouldn’t get in a storefront theater.
That’s something that wasn’t really available to me when I was in college. If you were a set designer, you either designed for theater, or you were lucky enough to break into film and did that. Those were your only options. I can’t help but think that there is a lot more opportunity right now for artists. I mean, I see all of these installations all around town. And it’s great. It works.”
When Emporium Pop-Ups came to an end, A.J. continued to create interactive art installations, but something in him wanted to find a new vehicle for expressing his creativity. This new vehicle was music.
Until recently, A.J. had not considered himself a musician. He played the piano when he was a kid, but was intimidated by music theory, and so when he got older chose a visual medium rather than go the auditory route. However that all changed when he started playing the harmonica.
He quickly became obsessed and developed a talent for the good ol’ hobo harp. With his primary musical taste being centered around hip-hop, he quickly found a niche in using effects to manipulate his harmonica to do some pretty wild things. With nothing but a vision for the sound he wanted to create, he started down the path of music production and developed his alter ego, Harmoni¢a LeWin$key. Along with that came a subgenre of hip-hop that he calls Swamp-Hop.
Swamp-Hop sounds like its name implies; a groovy, lo-fi journey that conjures images of cartoon characters on psychedelic adventures through humid landscapes. In typical Anarchitype fashion, it is both playful and dark, with a flair of the unusual.
Check out Harmoni¢a LeWin$key’s debut EP below!!