Making Yourself at Home – Laura Shaeffer

June 20, 2013 · Print This Article

Over the past ten plus years, Laura Shaeffer has been the entrepreneur and custodian behind a number of projects housed within a handful of unconventional— and often under utilized— spaces on the Southside of Chicago, including Home Gallery, The Op Shop and Southside Hub of Production (SHoP). Her approach is a combination of activism and common sense; community building and home-making. She honors domestic spaces as sites of radical, informal pedagogy, and this manifests itself in an important through line that runs across her projects; they act as platforms for kids to express their creativity and imagination, and indulge their curiosity. Alongside immersing them in art and cultural production, an important byproduct of this is kids’ engagement with other kids, families, neighbors and neighborhoods.

By remaining open, nurturing organic expansion and leveraging intuition, Shaeffer stewards growth rather then shoehorning artists into rigid themes or mapping them onto discrete timelines. She recounts the combination of circumstance and serendipity that led to the recent closing of SHoP and subsequent re-opening of Home Gallery for us, and outlines her influences, collaborators and thoughts on sustainability and longevity below.

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When John Preus, Mike Phillips, founder of South Side Projection, and I first started thinking about SHoP as a community cultural hub, we talked a lot about a need we all saw for a more un-programmed life, where idle time can be productive and where relationships have time and space to develop, between people, artists and generations. I love the idea of stewarding growth, looking after, caring for and managing an exhibit as a way of curating through encouraging artists to be more present and participate in the exhibit after the opening in ways that could make their work more accessible to others and in return inspire further thought and exploration on what it means to be an artist in our current culture, especially a more publicly or socially engaged artist. I tend to work intuitively and gravitate toward others who do as well. Working on shows with John and Alberto Aguilar was incredibly inspiring, they are both extremely challenging and creative thinkers. I found that a very good sense of humor and irony is most important in this kind of work and we were able to make each other laugh at the most crucial times.

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One common interest John and I shared with others who helped found this project, as parents and artists, was to create spaces for exhibitions, learning and socializing where children and older folks alike would come and be in an environment that was heterogeneous and allowed for spontaneous interactions. We talked a lot about the Piazza, the Town Square, the Adventure Playground movement, public places where everyone gathered, young and old to have a drink, converse, play freely, or make things… and to linger into the evenings. We also wanted a cultural space where we could bring our kids and they’d have their own environment in which to create together so we set up what we called the Autonomous Making Space (silly name we know) for them to explore their own ideas, and make up their own activities, structures, and games. SHoP drew much of its inspiration from the Junk/Adventure Playground movement begun in the 30’s in Europe by C. Th. Sørensen, a Danish landscape architect. These playgrounds become centers, accessible to the entire community, a place to gather and play freely and to develop intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Like the Adventure Playground, we wanted our Hub space to encourage children and adults to interact with and learn from each other. Ultimately, we wanted to create a space for people to feel ownership and take responsibility for the space itself because it exists as a result of their own efforts and brings the larger community together.

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In terms of spaces that have provided a source of inspiration, there are so many. Several are in Finland; Hirvitalo, a Contemporary Art Center, founded in 2006 as a cultural space in Pispala, Finland, a deeply kindred spirit; Pixelache, a transdisciplinary platform for experimental art, design, research and activism co-created by artist Andrew Paterson whom I had the good fortune to meet in 2007 at the Pedagogical Factory by Jim Duignan, founder of Stockyard Institute, who is a very significant inspiration for SHoP. Places like Experimental Station, Co-Prosperity Sphere, Mess Hall, Comfort Station and North Branch have provided guidance and inspiration as well. There are too many individual artists, projects and people to mention, who have been collaborators and co-producers over the years. Collaborations like Material Exchange, Kultivator and WochenKlausur have also been very influential.

After the Fenn house was supposedly sold (it is now back on the market!), we were charged with the daunting task of reducing the accumulated contents of a 16 room mansion to fill a 20 foot sea container, to be driven away and parked on the Resource Center’s land (thanks to the generous help and support of both Ken Dunn and Ken Schug and some wonderful volunteers). We had all grieved the loss of that beautiful space before we moved, but the lightness of being I personally experienced shortly thereafter made it clear that it is not the space itself, but the people who make the space meaningful through their care, their energy and their creativity. That location, while at once magical and wonderful, and which provided so much space for learning for us all, was also much more demanding than any Op Shop or Home Gallery exhibit and we really needed time to reflect, regroup and re-organize ourselves if we were to become a sustainable center for the community.

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I suppose the decision to open up Home Gallery again was a combination of circumstance and intention. We invited some of the artists that played a large role in SHoP as well a few new ones to our private home to intervene with our “private lives” in ways that would alter or disrupt our routines and as well, help us ease the transition back home and frankly, tend to the spaces that had been neglected while running a 16 room grass roots community arts center for almost 2 years. Our tiny home became the focus for the continuation of concepts and ideas we had been working with on a larger scale at Fenn House, allowing us to explore the more domestic and private side of these ideas.

The question of how we will continue to nurture and grow our projects outside of the traditional constraints of traditional organizational structures and frameworks is a very good one. We are discussing and further questioning this all the time. What might we gain by adopting a more organized structure and what might we stand to lose? As an art project, The Op Shop had a sense of freedom and extreme fluidity, SHoP for the 15 months of it’s existence at Fenn continued to enjoy that fluid, flexible and organic quality… but how long can that be sustained? Eventually a project has to grapple with these questions, I admire projects like Mess Hall who knew from the get go that they would not opt to become a non -profit and had a very clear vision for their mission in this sense. I feel we are still questioning the whole issue of becoming a non-profit and what that implies and how it impacts the project itself. In some ways we will not know before hand but one suspects that there might be a loss of this sense of intuitive process, fluid practice and to be honest, we may get away with much less. On the other hand, money is an issue and funding is needed if we are to continue in any long term way. I am and we are obviously conflicted about this issue!

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Maybe artists and others who are attracted to unconventional spaces to view and think about art, like the mansion, the small townhome, the porch, the back yard gallery, the storefront, the park, and various unexpected public spaces, are more likely to want to examine their role in social change, themes of modern urban life in spaces that are themselves a challenge. There are artists who have certainly been repelled. I like the story of one artist who had proposed a project for an exhibit at SHoP, was invited to participate, and showed up on a typical day for us, where kids were hammering pieces of wood together on the front steps, students were running a yard sale in the front yard, some seniors were playing bridge inside, the house was buzzing with activity preparing for the installation of the next show. I saw a looming figure outside the house and then I saw him disappear, I asked a friend if they knew why this artist left the scene without coming in to meet us (I knew him from his resume and photos) She said that he ‘didn’t want to show his work in a house run by unprofessional hippies.’ This artist never responded to us again. I could see his point, but I love general (orchestrated) chaos, so I guess that’s my fate.

As told to Thea Liberty Nichols via email, June 2013.

All images courtesy of Home Gallery and SHoP.




Top 5 Picks! (3/26-3/28)

March 25, 2010 · Print This Article

Hallooo! My darling dearies, it’s me again, the bringer of picks and the peddler of shows. Again, I’m not actually going to be around this weekend (this and next I’m in Cali, weekend after that Kentucky, then New Your the following weekend, if all works correctly). I will think of you all as I drink a 40 on Potrero Hill and watch the sun set over San Francisco Friday night. I’ll be thinking of you, and ALL THE ART YOU ARE OUT SEEING IN MY ABSENCE! No getting lazy just ‘cus the crawler’s out of town. Get your ass out there and support your community. Got it? Good! All right, here you go…

Where did #1 go? To the land of Outdated Press Releases, that’s where. Continue on to #2.

2. Waiting Room at Spoke

Waiting Room, a piece presented by Stephanie Nadeau, involves, you guessed it, waiting. I know Stephanie from out time at the ‘Tute, and have admired her work for as long as I’ve known her. For this work, ya’ll who show up will be invited, and I quote, “to come spend your time. Our mission is to allow you to contribute your time comfortably and productively while remaining completely idle. Wait for as little or as long as you like, it’s entirely up to you. Stop by anytime for your free timecard and we’ll get you started on a rewarding and enjoyable waiting experience.” Come wait with us.

Spoke is located at 119 N. Peoria. Waiting Room is open Saturday from 12-8pm.

3. Radical Semantics at Pentagon

Here is another prime opportunity to sit and wait. Well, perhaps not wait. Held alongside Music From Big Pink, Radical Semantics features 16mm films by Eric Stewart, Alex Lake, Ross McFessell, Adam Neese and Randy Sterling Hunter. And I quote, “Radical Semantics is a survey of 16mm films by film-makers whose methods stand in opposition to the algorithmic and computer assisted processes that define many contemporary media works. Often working with home-made optics and developing their film in sinks and buckets, these filmmakers create short works that emphasize the expressive and opt for complexity rather than reproducibility and homogeneity.”

Pentagon is located at 961 W. 19th St., 1F. Screening is Saturday from 8:10-10:10pm.

4. Grand Opening of the New OpShop

Round two of Laura Shaeffer’s marvelous project, the OpShop. And I quote, “The Op Shop v.2 is thrilled to announce the grand opening of Adhocity: an ongoing, evolving where-it’s-atmosphere of dialogue and opportunities for the exchange of ideas, objects and histories inspired by the principles of adhocism.” Oh, and be sure to head downstairs to THE CREEPIEST BASEMENT EVER! Hooray!

The OpShop is located at 1613 E. 55th St. Reception is Saturday from 5-9pm.

5. Up For the Downstroke at 65 Grand

65Grand is awesome, and this work is awesome. What more can you ask for? Work by David Leggett.

65Grand is located at 1378 W Grand Ave. Reception is Friday from 7-10pm.




Top 5 Picks! (3/19 & 3/20)

March 18, 2010 · Print This Article

Oh, may darling lovelies, I will miss you all this weekend. I must leave you to travel north for the weekend. Friday night will find me sitting in a cabin on the edge of a lake, drinking rum and trying to figure out how to not loose at poker. It will be good, and I so dearly need it. But, I am not leaving you with nothing. Though I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a while now, I am bummed about the line-up I’m going to be missing this weekend, for it is a good one. Before I go on to the list, I did want to mention one thing. My friend Laura Shaeffer (of Home Gallery) is running the second iteration of the Op-Shop down in Hyde Park and is looking for proposals for the space. It is an old Hollywood Video with, I shit you not, the CREEPIEST FUCKING BASEMENT in the whole of time. Want to make some crazy site specific art ASAP? Proposals are due by Saturday! And now, for the list…

1. WTF 1.0 at Kunz, Vis, Gonzalez

And I quote, “KVG cordially invites you to attend the opening of WTF 1.0 curated by Rosalinda March 19th 2010 from 6-10pm at 2324 Montana Chicago, IL. WTF is a Kunz, Vis, González exhibition series introducing the viewer to contemporary ideas on the cult of  ‘new and youth.’  WTF uses humor and the absurd in visual art to delight the viewer and create a reflexive lens in which to view radical shifts in cultural perspectives.” Can’t argue with anyone who calls an art show WTF. Perhaps my next show will be called FUBAR, or possibly BOHICA.

Kunz, Vis, González is located at 2324 W. Montana St., in the garage. The reception is Friday from 6-10pm.

2. Irena Knezevic: Gesture Guild at Threewalls

And I quote, “The League of Dark Departments have joined forces in the Gesture Guild, a bureau for the recovery and acquisition of lost gestures. The Gesture Guild aims to return and reinforce the primordial anxieties responsible for head-bending weight and other liquid spiraling disasters, topical and tropical.” Oh and I love the editors note: Sailor attire is strongly encouraged, those who do not arrive as sailors will be made into sailors.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St, #2C. The reception is Friday from 6-9pm, performance begins at 7pm.

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Top…uhh…1

November 27, 2009 · Print This Article

Good morning to all of you out there in TV land. I hope you are feeling bloated and a little ashamed, now that the national day of gluttony is done. I wish I could say I have an exciting lineup of shows to get you out into the streets, crawlin’ off those extra calories, but alas, there are but three shows opening this weekend, all tonight. Now, I’m not putting all three on my picks, if you want to know the other two you can find them on my Gallery Crawl. No, dearies, I’m giving you my one pick, from three: The Op Shop.

1. The Op Shop at, well, The Op Shop

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So, I’m not exactly sure what the story is here. It has something to do with Laura Shaeffer over at Home Gallery, and includes a lot of artists she’s shown: Anders Nilsen, Katrin Asbury, Rachel Tredon, and Albert Stabler, among others. As far as I can tell, it is a new idea for a roaming space, called the Op(portunity) Shop, derived from the Australian term for thrift shops, apparently. Not sure where it’s going next, if anywhere, but hey, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Hyde Park, why not stop by?

The Op Shop is located at 1613 E. 55th. Reception tonight, 6-10pm.