Grafting is a horticultural process that involves splicing one plant onto another to jump start growth. The root stock is the base, or anchor, of the operation used for its already mature, well developed root system. The scion is the plant matter that is grafted on; if the process is successful, you end up with a genetic duplication of the scion. Edra Soto’s current exhibition “Graft” is on view now at Terrain in Oak Park, a project space encompassing artist and principal Sabina Ott’s front yard. Soto uses Ott’s front porch as the root stock to graft her installation, comprised of patterned, bright white screened gates, onto, and although they mimic the aesthetic appeal of similar gates in her native Puerto Rico, they function quite differently in the terroir of Oak Park. Soto was kind enough to discuss this, along with her inspiration for the project and her own gallery and art collection with me below. “Graft’s” closing reception is this Sunday, April 21 from 1-4pm.
TLN: I know the patterning and the structure of the screen installed at Terrain is inspired by similar wrought iron fences in Puerto Rico, where you’re from. Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and what inspired you to utilize these fences in your work– was it their design? A certain nostalgia for Puerto Rico? The way they fit within Oak Park?
ES: Yes, this patterning comes from iron fences that still exist in Puerto Rico. Many are in my parent’s neighborhood (where I grew up). The neighborhood was built in the early 60s and in addition to the aesthetic appeal, the screens provided security and ventilation. It’s easy to find all kinds of information relevant to the problems related to criminality at that time. However, there’s not much information about the pattern designs of the fences. My interest in these patterns started around 7 years ago. I made some illustrations of them, but didn’t develop the idea further. My frequent visits to Puerto Rico awoke my interest in them again. My husband started using some of these patterns in the furniture he builds and that definitely made me feel I was missing out. Somehow, his admiration of the fences validated my previous interest in them. The last time I went to Puerto Rico with my husband, we went on fieldtrips around my parents’ neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods to take pictures of these fences. That was one of the most fun things we have done together. We truly love finding patterns we haven’t seen before. After all that fun activity, the idea of transplanting a Puerto Rican fence in Oak Park came to me. Their beauty allures me but their potential of becoming modern art when taken out of their original context spooks me!
TLN: You run a gallery space in your backyard, The Franklin, and Sabina Ott has dedicated her front yard to her exhibition space, Terrain. Do you think The Franklin and Terrain have a lot in common, or do they take two different approaches to a similar format? What are some challenges of having an outdoor exhibition space? Do you find that most of the works are made specifically for the exhibition space?
ES: I’m so glad you ask this question because it hasn’t been asked before. Just now, we have created evidence that documents one small part of the history of domestic artist-run gallery spaces in Chicago. I probably will have a conversation with Sabina soon, since I don’t know the reasons why she chooses to do her projects in her front yard. From my end, I was offered an exhibition at Northeastern Illinois University last year and had almost a year to conceive the project. That time allowed me to partner with my husband on the project, have a lot of conversations about possible projects, and eventually, creating The Franklin became our project. I kept asking myself ‘what can we offer to the art community that is not available to them’? Having a significant art collection was another motivation, thinking ahead of time that it would be great to open our house during opening nights at The Franklin and extend the life of the artwork we own beyond our own personal enjoyment. The specific structure of the Franklin offers the challenges of interacting somewhat with its design. Being partially outdoors forces the artists to react to the space as well. So far, the most successful projects come from artists that have challenged themselves by creating specific interactions utilizing their work, their aesthetics and their ingenuity. It is a great challenge.
TLN: Because we’ve worked together previously, I know a little bit about your amazing collection of art work and visual culture in your home, which itself is a kind of museum of objects and works that inspire and influence you. I know you said you would often trade works with other artists, or purchase pieces at auction to build your collection, but what made you want to start exhibiting work and start a gallery? Is it related at all to collecting? Seems like there might be a similarly social aspect of owning and displaying work, but it may also be a more private, archival impulse that motivates you.
ES: Collecting art comes from a very honest place. I just happen to love many different kinds of art and also happen to have a lot of talented friends that make it. I am fascinated by materiality and objects, but really avoid being a packrat. Collecting art makes us feel that we are doing something honorable. It is after all someone’s real connection to art language and represents a little bit of the person that made it. I wouldn’t display my work at my house because I have always thought that it is a little bit tacky. It’s like putting a big portrait of myself in the middle of the room. Not that I don’t have pictures of me (most of them with my husband) around the house. But I see those as memories reminders.
One of the reasons I felt motivated to open a gallery in our backyard was to give a ‘second life’ to our art collection. Having other artists work at your house, in such a private setting, kind of limits the initial purpose of that art piece. Indeed, every single time we have an opening, I encourage people to look around. Lots of work gets lots of compliments and I get to tell the visitors, and then the artists, how much people like their work. So The Franklin has 3 major components: The exhibitions at the space, the art collection, and an upside down pineapple cake that I’ve been making since 2009. Derived from my wedding cake, made by my mother, I started this project in an effort to transform sour memories around the original cake. Now it’s one of our traditions at The Franklin. An installation of these cakes will be created for a collaborative project by Alberto Aguilar at the MCA during this summer.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview conducted via email April 2013.
There is just too much good stuff this weekend, 5 spots aren’t enough. Here’s what I think everyone should see, in chronological and alphabetical order:
Friday (4/1) -
Work by Will Arnold, Jung Eun Chang, Justin Farkas, Karri Anne Fischer, Motoko Furuhashi, Amy Gilles, Jim Graham, Dan Gratz, Ben Grosser, Ben Hatcher, Dan Krueger, Katie Latona, Erica Leohner, Maria Lux, Nick Mullins, Kerianne Quick, Michael Smith, Paul Shortt, Laura Tanner, Jessica Tolbert, Nicki Werner, Sarah Beth Woods, and Michael Woody.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S Morgan St. Reception Friday from 6-10pm.
Work by Maria Calderon.
Fill in the Blank Gallery is located at 5038 N. Lincoln Ave. Reception Friday from 7-11pm.
Work by Casey Riordan Millard
Packer Schopf Gallery is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Jeff Badger, Carl Baratta, Amanda Curreri, Joanne Lefrak, Kathy Leisen, and Dan Schank.
Lloyd Dobler is located at 1545 W. Division, 2nd Fl. Reception Friday from 6-10pm.
Work by Peter Allen Hoffmann.
NOTE NEW LOCATION: Thomas Robertello Gallery is located at 27 N Morgan St. Reception Friday from 6-8pm.
Saturday (4/2) -
Abstract Location features work by work by Steven Bankhead, Katarina Burin, Fritz Chesnut, Jacob Dyrenforth, Freeman & Lowe, and Ryan McGinness. Anthotypes features work by John Opera.
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington. Reception Saturday from 4-7pm.
Work by Andy Cahill, Alan & Michael Fleming, Yasi Ghanbari, Danny Greene, Joe Grimm, Marissa Perel, Arron David Ross, and Michael Vallera.
LVL3 is located at 1542 N Milwaukee Ave #3. Reception Saturday from 6-10pm.
Sunday (4/3) -
Work by Joe Baldwin, Timothy Bergstrom, Brian Calvin, Federico Cattaneo, Edmund Chia, Dana DeGiulio, Dan Devening, Cheryl Donegan, Judith Geichman, Andrew Greene, Magalie Guérin, Antonia Gurkovska, Seth Hunter, Michiko Itatani, Eric Lebofsky, Diego Leclery, José Lerma, Jim Lutes, Rebecca Morris, Sabina Ott, Noah Rorem, Erin Washington and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung.
Julius Cæsar is located at 3144 W Carroll Ave, 2G. Reception Sunday from 4-7pm.
Just wanted to let you all know that the Oak Park, IL domestic art space What It Is has made catalogs from several shows from its 2009 and 2010 years of programming available for purchase on their website. I don’t know how long these publications have actually been available, but the info just hit my RSS feed today and since they all look so nice, I thought I’d pass this along as an FYI. Publications on Jonathan Franklin, Sabina Ott + Michelle Wassen, Irene Pérez, Michelle Welzen, Collazo Anderson & Bernard Williams, Andrew Rigsby, and the group shows Permission to Work and Physicality, Perspective and the Consciousness of Relating are all available via the website. Each catalog even has this neat little preview slide show thingee so you can page through and take a look at the book in advance, before buying. Way to go guys!
Here’s what I want to know: if What It Is, a shoestring-budget domestic art space, can publish small catalogs in conjunction with many of its exhibitions — why the heck can’t the MCA do the same for its 12 x 12 series??
Ok, so for those of you who don’t know yet, CAA (College Art Association) has dubbed Chicago worthy for it’s pedagogical adventures, and has settled in our fair city for the weekend. As a member of CAA, I’ll be cruising from lecture to lecture the next few days, trying to suck up as much strange knowledge as I can while the circus is in town. But I’m not the only one excited about the CAA crew. As a result of the conference, just about everyone else in town is trotting out something or other, much of which is AWESOME! As a result, I bring you The Biggest Top 5 You’ve Ever Seen! Rather than picking individual galleries for the Top 5, I’ve corralled a Top 5 of places (in no particular order) you should go this weekend. Hope ya’ll enjoy.
The self-proclaimed Chicago Arts District is holding it’s monthly 2nd Fridays round of openings. Here’s the places I’d go if I were you:
Chicago Art Department – 1837 S. Halsted. Cultural Excavation, work by Christopher Piatt, Ben Valentine, Wayne Bertola, Virginia Broersma, Allison Rae Butkus, Seth Gershberg, Jennifer Hines, Jennifer Jackson, Sarah Leitten, Amanda Paulson, Aaron Wooten and others. Reception Friday, from 6-10pm.
ROOMS Gallery – 645 W 18th St. ORACLE:CHANNELING, with Marrakesh & Todd Frugia. Performance Friday, from 8-10pm.