JT: No, we approached the Chicago Housing Authority. They own the land and the building. Itâ€™s a large project, and expanding all of the time. When I say we, first and foremost Iâ€™m working with my partner, Efrat Appel. She is a social worker and editor. We developed the idea and at a certain point went to look for connections in the neighborhood. We met Cabrini Connections, Marwen and After School Matters. Then there are numbers of SAIC students who work in student work groups to collaborate on the projects. Itâ€™s important to me that the exchange is not â€œcome help me on this project and I will give you credit,â€ but is on the level of something more educational and important. And really none of this would’ve been possible without the support of Richard Gray Gallery who helped me approach the CHA and who made the project financially possible.
DG: Then I guess the proper question would be what made you want to work with Cabrini Green as a site?
JT: My work at times has a political or social aspect. There was a time when I was living in Israel with the political situation, with its racism, with Jews against Arabs or even Jews against Jews with a different color of skin. And in coming to Chicago, itâ€™s here as well.
I also think that the notion of working with housing projects came about through working with Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.Â It was a very different collaboration with my students from SAIC. We lit it up from inside. By working on the campus of IIT and exploring with the students not only the architecture but what was happening around we began to feel that the absence of the Robert Taylor Homes was very strong. It had only been a few years since they had been torn down. Because we were working on lighting the building we changed the class time to from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
JT: Well … you know … the students liked it in the end. Taking students from IIT to the Red Line at 5 a.m. safely just wouldnâ€™t have been possible a few years ago. I havenâ€™t lived here before so it wasnâ€™t like I noticed. But at IIT we were interviewing students, faculty and neighbors so it was clear that it had had a huge impact on the local community.
Another impetus was a commission for a private collection in the former Montgomery Ward building that I worked on. While learning about the building I found out that it was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also built the World Trade Center, and who in 1954 designed the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis.Â They were torn down after just 16 years. Architecture critic and writer Charles Jencks later pointed to that moment as the end of Modern architecture. The first time that we were tearing down this Modern dream.
The Montgomery Ward building itself had to go through this makeover to become what it is today, from offices to condos. So the notion of demolition and destruction together with 9/11 and was all sitting right across the street practically from the row houses. So that brought me closer to Cabrini.
But I guess the possibility of relating to a historical moment was very clear. Cabrini is the last [high rise housing project] to go down and this is the last building to go down.
DG: How do you see your intervention acting to elucidate or animate that historical moment?
JT: It was very clear to me from the beginning that projection (which is the tool that Iâ€™m usually working with) projecting on, imposing an image, wouldnâ€™t work here. To project on a building is to come from the outside. And realizing the potential of the emptiness that needs to be filled; it needs to be filled from the inside.
Therefore we went to the neighborhood, to the kids. People who should have the opportunity to raise his or her voice about this issue, to get a different attention. Cabrini Green got a specific kind of attention. Everyone was writing about Cabrini but only when somebody was killed. Nobody was paying attention when the other things were happening. So this is a way to give to the next generation, to the kids who came from there, a way to express, to be heard, to be seen and to be empowered.
So we started to work with partners in the community like Cabrini Connections, a tutor-mentor program and with Marwen Foundation that is also in the neighborhood, but serving kids from around the city. Several of the kids from Cabrini Connections actually lived in the apartments in the last building. Other kids, from Marwen were also mostly from low income housing, but not only. For the kids who donâ€™t know Cabrini, the approach was obviously different, it was more learning about the history.
DG: What is the nature of the kids’ contribution?
JT: I was thinking about how to help give voice to someone in a public space and also in my other work about the relationship between light and sound. If we can translate the message, or whatever the kids want to say, to light.
The workshops that we hold with the kids includes some information about public art, what it can do and about light and sound art as a means of gathering attention. Then we begin to talk about general issues about home and housing. At a certain point we introduce slam poetry, a form that is from Chicago and at a certain point the kids themselves start to write. When they are done with their poems they perform them. Their performances will then be translated into a modulated light display.
DG: So each individual kidâ€™s voice will light a room in the last building?
JT:Â We record the audio of the performance and program it into the control chips for the LEDâ€™s. We thought when we began that we might only be able to get 30-40 kids, but weâ€™ve had such a great response that weâ€™ve recorded nearly 100 kids. Weâ€™re trying to get to 134, because their are 134 apartments in the building. I felt that during the workshops that there was something really important happening with the kids that were not only from public housing. We felt that we could extend this dialogue to include area kids that werenâ€™t as directly effected.
There is another layer to this educational aspect, in that I look to the example of Moholy-Nagy. Heâ€™s close to me not just in working with light, but a lot in education. This is also something that came to me when I was working on Crown Hall. Both Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe came to Chicago at more or less the same time, from the same place for basically the same purpose, but they were completely different, not only as artists, but as educators and thinkers. Mies was like â€˜That is how you do things, cause thatâ€™s how I do it.â€™ Whereas Moholy-Nagy was much more collaborative, with faculty working with students on a project, trying to bring the students into the community from the very beginning. These aspects of his example are important. And that was also part of the idea at Crown Hall, was to do this very Moholy-Nagy workshop inside of a Mies structure. And there the idea that I brought was very simple. Just to light up the inside of the building, the rest was figured out in collaboration. I see myself as an artist / teacher, teacher / artist.
Here the idea is simple, just to light up the inside of the building with voices, but still as the project grows their is more and more opportunities for students and creative experience.Â Sound students made the sound equipment, and make the recordings. Faculty and students from the Art and Technology Department are constructing the LED kits.
The demolition starts the day after the installation of the lights and will last between 4 to 6 weeks, so every day there will be less and less lights, as they are demolished with the building. The electronics will be salvaged from the wreckage during the recycling process of the debris. The thing is we donâ€™t really know what it will look like!Â A mock-up wonâ€™t help me.
DG: Is that at all scary?
JT: It is!Â While I am working only with white light, I do expect that the effect will have color, reflecting off of the painted walls in the apartments, being more clearly visible because the windows have been removed prior to demolition.
JT: Someone was trying to make it nice, to make it a home.
DG: In the building is the audio also available?
JT:Â No, itâ€™s just the blinking because you wouldnâ€™t be able to hear it from the street anyway.Â The audio will be available online as a web component with an interactive digital model of the building. Youâ€™ll be able to click each apartment and hear all 134 poems performed.Â The poems will also be published.
There is also a gallery component at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Cabrini has always been close to the Gold Coast, close yet so far away. I mean itâ€™s a 9 minute walk from Cabrini to the MCA. But the gap between these two is huge. I thought it would be interesting to bring it live to the MCA. Another group of students from SAIC are working on making a live feed of the installation available 24/ 7 for the 4-6 weeks in the MCA.
DG: This is a colossal project!
JT: I was just thinking about that. Its obviously growing over my head and Iâ€™m really glad that itâ€™s happening in two weeks so it canâ€™t grow any more!
First off, a huge thanks to Thea Liberty Nichols for her superb series of interviews with Chicago critics, writers, and curators. The role that writers and critics play in Chicago is an oft-debated topic, and Thea brought a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm to these conversations that made it all seem fresh with new possibility. If you want even more Thea, you can read her writings at Art Slant here.
We’re also extremely excited about our next guest blogger: Dan Gunn, an artist, writer and educator living and working in Chicago who is also on our “Fielding Practice” panel for Art:21 blog. He got his MFA from The School of the Art Institute in Painting in 2007, and has exhibited at Monique Meloche Gallery, Loyola University Museum of Art, Lloyd Dobler Gallery, Living Room Gallery, the Brown Triangle and the Rider Project:Emerald City.Â Dan writes about Chicago art, including the history of alternative and apartment spaces in conjunction with the Hyde Park Art Centerâ€™s â€œArtists Run Chicagoâ€ exhibition and Threewalls/Green Lantern Pressâ€™ book â€œArtist Run Digest.” He also writes occasional art criticism for Newcity and has published essays for Proximity Magazineâ€™s (con)Temporary Art Guide and for ArtSlant.com.
First up: Dan interviews Jan Tichy about Tichy’s newest project to be installed in the last Cabrini Green highrise. Later this week, he’ll have interviews with artists Chris Bradley and Mindy Rose Schwartz. Good times!
This week on Centerfield, our twice-monthly column for Art:21 blog, we introduce a new regular segment: a special, (mostly) Chicago-centric podcast focusing on current issues and events in the contemporary art world called “Fielding Practice with Bad at Sports.” We’re really excited about bringing an audio dimension to our “Centerfield” column, since talking about art is, at heart, what Bad at Sports is all about. To this end, we’ve brought Chicago artist and arts writer Dan Gunn on board for our regular discussions, with Duncan MacKenzie leading our conversations and Richard Holland introducing each show and weaving a fantastic soundtrack into its contents.
This week, Dan, Duncan and I talk about the implications of Americans for the Artsâ€™ newly issued National Art Index, an attempt to report on the health of the arts sector in a manner not unlike the Gross Domestic Productâ€™s tracking of the Global National Economy. We also discuss Los Angelesâ€™ desire to host a major art fair, perhaps under the auspices of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI), the group that runs the Armory Show and Art Chicago; and we consider two painting shows by Michelle Grabner (at Shane Campbell Gallery) and Pamela Fraser (at the Gahlberg Gallery, College of DuPage) that are currently on view. We end the segment with brief plugs for upcoming (or just-opened) Chicago exhibitions that weâ€™re especially looking forward to seeing.
In future episodes we’ll feature guest panelists from the Chicago art community to keep things lively and add new angles to the conversations. So, click on over to art:21 blog and give it a listen…we hope you like it!
January 15, 2011 · Print This Article
Ack, I meant to post this yesterday and totally forgot. Huge apologies, because this thing looks great – so many fantastic artists are involved in this show! But luckily there’s still time for you to catch the first of an ongoing “Winter Experiment” at Monique Meloche Gallery if you hop on by the space TODAY, Saturday, at 1pm to listen to the talk between Ebony G. Patterson & Tumelo Mosaka taking place in the gallery. They will have treats and hot drinks (provided by Letizia’s Natural Bakery), and Duncan will be on site recording this and all the other upcoming talks for Bad at Sports’ podcast, so stop by, hang out, and say hi to your friends! The full schedule of events follows….
Winter ExperimentÂ -Â Calendar of Events
Saturday January 15, 1pm: Ebony G. Patterson & Tumelo Mosaka
Patterson (Jamaican, born 1981, lives Lexington, KY/Kingston, Jamaica) will have a dynamic mixed-media installation that investigates Jamaican dance hall culture in the gallery’s window facing Division Street. Mosaka included Patterson in his 2007 exhibition Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art where he was formerly Associate Curator of Exhibitions. Recently, Mosaka has become the Contemporary Art Curator at the Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, Illinois. Pattersonâ€™s installation Gully Godz in Conversation-Conversations Revised I, II and III will continue through March 26 as our fourth on the wall project.
Saturday January 22, 1pm: Dan Gunn & Michelle Grabner
Gunn’s (American, born 1980, lives Chicago) paintings, sculptures, and installations investigate the power and perception of pattern and light as well as the roles of spatial and cultural context to the assignment of meaning in contemporary art. Michelle Grabner, who is an artist, curator, writer and the founder of The Suburban in Oak Park, taught Gunn at the School of the Art Institute, where she is Chair of the Painting and Drawing Department and where Gunn received his MFA in 2007. After the conversation, follow us for the opening of Grabnerâ€™s solo exhibition Like a rare morel at Shane Campbell Gallery.
Saturday January 29, 1pm: Ben Fain & Shannon Stratton
Fain (American, born London 1980, lives Chicago), who is best known for his controversial public-performances and parades, recently taught the course The Parade Float as Guerrilla Art in Northwesternâ€™s Department of Art Theory and Practice. Stratton, the founder and Executive Director of local non-profit Threewalls, is intimately familiar with Chesterhill, OH, the location of Fainâ€™s most recent parade and the subject of his current project. Together they will discuss this project along with new contexts for art making and exhibiting.
Saturday February 5, 1pm: Anna Shteynshleyger & Andreas Waldburg-Wolfegg
Shteynshleygerâ€™s (Russian-American, born Moscow 1977, lives Chicago) photographsâ€”portraits, still-lifes, landscapes, and interiorsâ€”display a historic sensitivity that is at once personal and political. Arts patron Waldburg-Wolfegg is on the Advisory Committee of the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the International Committee of the Renaissance Society, where Shteynshleyger had solo exhibitions in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Shteynshleyger will be previewing some of her new work in progress.
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Our latest post is up over at art:21 blog. This week, we look at a few of the gallery exhibitions that have opened in Chicago over the past month. A brief teaser below:
Traditionally, fall is the time when galleries launch their new slate of exhibitions after a relatively slow-paced couple of summer months. Galleries tend to highlight some of the most prominent artists on their roster around this time, but itâ€™s also common to use the Fall slot to introduce promising new up-and-comers. In Chicago, at least, all the hoopla around the fall openings (many of which took place on a single night several weeks ago) can feel a lot like a high school pep rally: the anticipatory fall preview lists and gallery guides, the minutely detailed gallery crawl maps and the inevitable â€œbest ofâ€ Tweets that follow are ways of rousing ourselves from the complacencies of summer in order to get psyched for the upcoming art season.
All hype notwithstanding, fall invariably works its magic on me. I struggle with lazy gallery-going during the summer (and, letâ€™s be honest here, sometimes during springtime too) yet feel a sense of urgency about seeing everything once September rolls around. Iâ€™m pleased to report that my efforts have been richly rewarded this season. There are so many interesting shows, and quite a few really excellent ones, taking place in Chicago right now there simply isnâ€™t space to do justice to all of them here. Letâ€™s start with exhibitions by two artists who were recently interviewed on Bad at Sportsâ€˜s podcast. Kehinde Wiley, on view through October 23 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, presented the latest iteration of his ongoing project World Stage: a series of portraits of young men of color from various cities around the world.Â Here, we find Wiley focusing on anonymous men from New Delhi, Mumbai and Sri Lanka, as opposed to the well-known rappers and athletes that had occasionally peopled his portraits in the past. (Read the post in its entirety here).