"During my recent visit to Kim’s Corner Food in Rogers Park, store owner and manager Thomas Kong stepped outside following a short cloudburst of rain. From there, Kong called to Dan Miller, an artist who has been his constant collaborator for the last three years, to grab his camera and meet him. When Miller emerged from the shop, Kong asked him to snap a picture of a swath of sidewalk bearing the water-stained traces of freshly fallen rain, and he happily obliged. I had come to get a sense of the artistic partnership between Kong and Miller, prepared with questions on the nature of contemporary artistic collaboration, unconventional exhibition spaces, public art, shared labor, and so on. But in this moment, I realized that perhaps I was overthinking it and that the crux of their collaboration could be a simple matter of mutual respect and friendship.
Miller’s approach toward Kong’s work makes that wholly apparent. He is careful not to project too much art-world jargon onto it, but is clearly interested in how Kong’s method and approach could be re-evaluated as a form of radical artistic practice. “He’s the most productive yet happiest artist I know,” Miller tells me. In Kong’s years running Kim’s, he has created thousands of collages using discarded product packaging from the store—Newport cigarette cartons, Little Debbie cakes, Pepsi twelve-pack boxes, etc. For years, Kong has mounted them with glue or tape to cardboard supports and hung them in the store. The artworks dominate the retail space, lining the backs of shelves, plastered to the windows and overtaking their still-for-sale counterparts. And while each work stands on its own, it would seem the project is really the shop itself, a functioning retail store usurped by Kong’s inexhaustible desire to reproduce endless formal variations from the remnants of the products it proffers. Seeing the daily flow of customers coming into the shop to buy soda or cigarettes feels peculiar, like someone doing legitimate grocery shopping inside of a total work of art."