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.




The Bomber Remains Anonymous: Reenacting the Haymarket Riot

May 4, 2011 · Print This Article

**all photos by Edward Crouse

 

Until recently, my recollection of the Haymarket Riot is as follows:

Me, age 15 in the high school library looking over microfiche and taking notes on note cards as had been suggested by our US History teacher. As prickly as he was hilarious, he had a ruler he thwatted against the table and black board for emphasis. He made Republican jokes and I was very proud of the notes I took in his class. I used a variety of colors, more for aesthetic presence than any sort of code. He said once the only reason he became a teacher was because he always liked his teachers and  wanted to be similarly liked. He said once he’d started teaching he realized it was only the good students that liked you and there weren’t very many of them. I wanted to be a good student. Actually, I was passable.

To be fair, I only chose to write about the Haymarket Riot because “riot” was in the topic title. And, actually, I do not remember much about my research. I remember being interested in how people managed to organize under such exhausted, alienating conditions. I remember being surprised at the conditions under which they worked; for instance, that previous to the riot people worked more than 8hrs a day on the regular. But aside from that I only recall my preoccupation with not plagiarizing and using a variety of pens to make my note cards handsome. The rest of that paper is a blur.

The older I get the more I discover blind spots like these—details that slipped past the guards of my younger memory.

Today, May 4th 2011, marks the proper 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot. On Saturday, April 30th Paul Durica’s well-loved A Pocket Guide To Hell partnered with the Illinois Labor History Society, Version 11: Community, the Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Drinking & Writing Theater, and the Fulton District Association to stage a reenactment of those 1886 events. There were two groups. One, the one I was a part of, met at the Haymarket Brewery to get dressed up participate as police. The other, the anarchists and attendees, gathered at Randolph and Desplaines where a history was read and performed from a predetermined script. I can’t speak for what happened in the square before our arrival, so I’ll just give you a play-by-play of my experience.

My first tweet @10:59 AM: 125th anniversary of Haymarket Riot leads to Haymarket Reenactment 2day! 2pm at Randolph and Halsted. #pocketguidetohell

We had a Green Lantern squad. A merry band of buddies met me at the bar where we were given black coats, hats, and asked if we’d prefer to be wounded or have cap guns. I chose to be wounded and a small gold sticker was put on my shoulder. I was given a captain’s hat, as someone who had organized other volunteers. I admired a woman’s moustache, went to the bathroom and had second thoughts about whether or not I’d rather shoot a cap gun. Maybe I didn’t want to get wounded after all. I hadn’t pretended to do anything (publicly) in so long, the adolescent part of my brain bit my adult lip with consternation.

I decided to stay the course.

I decided I’d enact a stomach wound. I practiced, quietly, grasping my abdomen, imagining how I would fall down.

I very much liked my captain’s hat.

Second Tweet @2:22: Can finally call myself Captain Picard#haymarketreenactment

Coming back to the main room I couldn’t recognize my party because everyone wore the same black coats. The room was filling up rapidly. A waiter came around with a tray full of very small beers. I had one and found my people. Environmental Encroachment started to play by the door—a punk marching band cut from the same cloth as Mucca Pazza. Hearing them made me happy because EE had played in the first Green Lantern about five years ago during some crazy circus house-cat performance (don’t ask).


While I’ve never been one to fully embrace the mystical significance of  synchronicity, I have always taken some comfort in our ability to return to themes.

Similarly, I started thinking about that first paper I wrote. I started thinking about how much my understanding of historical sequence has improved. I did not have enough context when I wrote that paper as Sophomore year. Of course, you have to start somewhere but as a 15 year-old the 1700s seemed as far away as the  1800s. It was like I experienced a temporal parallax from my 1996 co-ordinate. I had no means with which to conceptually measure those temporal distances. Now, 15 years later, I have a deeper sense of consequence and a better understanding of how one thing leads to another. 20 years is a literal distance that I’ve already traveled. Or, for another example, I understand how modernism lead to post-modernism. Nevertheless, the understanding of my 30 old-self is still based on an intellectual apprehension. History is still not present to me. Even thinking through all of the recent revolutions and protests, from Cairo to Madison: there is a way where people are active in the present for deep ideals which may be incongruous with the  hierarchical structures in which they are embedded. I’m thinking also of England, where students have been protesting almost constantly about the need for free education. By participating in this reenactment on Randolph and Desplains, I had an opportunity to internalize my own history so that my understanding wasn’t simply intellectual, but became a muscle memory.

Someone stood up on a stool and gave us instructions. We were to march in a group around the block to a parking lot across the bridge.

Third Tweet @2:47: Those who are wounded fall and hurt. You know who you are.” #haymarketreenactment

In the parking lot more attempts were made to organize the police. We were instructed to form lines, 24 across and 8 deep. We were at least 2 more sets of 8 going back. And it was a great crowd. One of the things  I love about Chicago is the way a multifarious group of people working under the larger umbrella of cultural action (here I’d include DIY movie theaters, artspaces, publications, activist groups) can come together to participate in another group action. Certainly we’ve been seeing a lot of that lately, for instance with the MDWY Fair. The Haymarket Reenactment was no exception. Organizations like Quimby’s, The Dil Pickle Club, The Nightingale, Columbia College, featherproof, Quickies, Dance Dance Dance Party, Stop Smiling, MAKE Magazine and others all had their own squad of 6+ people. Further, within the confines that Durica prescribed people were also able to enjoy themselves. There was a built-in chaos or disorder that had been accounted for. It was most apparent in the parking lot where we waited. The lines deteriorated slightly. It was hot. People made jokes about the sun finally coming out at last after so much winter.

Fourth Tweet @ 2:56: People have started speaking old timey #haymarketreenactment

When at last, we began to walk down the street we started to march. It was an unplanned development but we stomped our feet in unison while simultanesouly thwacking our costume-issued gray, styrofoam pool-noodle clubs. I suspect a similar movement took hold of the original police;  approaching a large mass of people will always be intimidating and if you’re assuming any kind of authority you need all the help you can get. Sharing a drum beat from your feet works pretty well. We could see a massive group of people standing in the middle of Des Plaines. There was a road block. Proper police stopped traffic to let us pass and someone opened the street barrier so that we, as a group (still in lines somehow), could walk into the middle of the throng. An anarchist in a vest spoke to us through the microphone by the Haymarket cart.

What was said/The Transcript no. 1:

The POLICE march up Desplaines to the Wagon, forcing spectators and workers north. WILLIAM WARD approaches FIELDEN.

WARD: I command you, in the name of the State of Illinois, to immediately and peaceably disperse.

FIELDEN: We are peaceable.

WARD: I command you and you to assist.

EdMar made his way to the front, and waved his gloved hand in a queen’s wave. Someone threw a dusty cloth up in to the air. It was white and it burst into a small smoke. There was the sound of a bomb. This was our signal. I began my death scene. A number of cap guns went off. Photographs scrambled to take pictures. I heard others groaning.

What was said/The Transcript no. 2:

THE HISTORIAN: No more than 5 minutes elapsed between the explosion and the last gunshot. No one knows who threw the bomb. No one knows how many workers and spectators who wounded or killed. The wounded along with the wounded police, 60 or so in number, were taken back to the Desplaines Station. One officer, Mathias Degan, died instantly from his injuries; seven others died later.

Fifth Tweet @3:34: Definitely died. Feel great. Still have to pee. #haymarketreenactment


The reenactment continued in a kind of fast forward over subsequent events. Most of the police who were wounded were wounded by friendly fire. Police started to sit up or stand up in order to listen and watch the performance. A mock execution was held. We listened to their last words.

What was said/The Transcript no. 3:

The actor who plays WILLIAM WARD is now SHERRIFF MATSON. He approaches the remaining 4 men who now stand with hands clasped behind their backs. After each speaks, he puts a hood over their heads. Parsons is cut-off mid-sentence. MATSON makes a gesture with his hand and the 4 drop their heads.

SPIES: The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.

ENGEL: (in German) Hurray for anarchy. Hurray for anarchy.

FISCHER: Hurray for anarchy. This is the happiest moment of my life.

PARSONS: Will I be allowed to speak, oh men of America? Let me speak, Sheriff Matson. Let the Voice
of the People be heard! O—

MATSON and the 4 men receded into the crowd. The WORKERS hold up a sign reading June 25, 1893.

This is the way we fast forwarded through time: by signs held up with dates on them. In this way, a narrative was enacted, such that the consequences of the riot were brought to their conclusion.

What was said/The Transcript no. 4:

LUCY PARSONS (Alma Washington): My children and I were not allowed to see Albert the morning he was murdered. We were arrested outside the jailhouse. Thousands lined the streets as the bodies of the 5 men made the journey to Waldheim Cemetery. On June 25, 1893 a memorial was dedicated to them. The next day Gov. Altgeld pardoned Schwab, Fielden, and Neebe. The fight for the 8 hr. day continued. The fight for a just and better world continues.

I was not there with my husband in his final hours. I was later told that on the eve of his execution, around midnight, alone in his cell, he sang his favorite song, our favorite song, “Anna Laurie.”

Finally I got up from my death pose. We were all lead in song after that; we sang “Les Marseillaise.”

Paul Durica started making his own speech, stating in particular what became my sixth tweet.

Sixth Tweet @3:42: Paul Durica: “History is a public space. It belongs to all of us.” #haymarketreenactment


It might seem tiresome, in some way, to include those transcripts. I did so, however, to help frame the whole experience. To show how much thought and effort went into the architecture of the event. It had been in the works since November and a ton of people participated to make it happen. To me the experience created a different rubric for education. By participating in a reenactment like this, one is directly implicated in the action of history. Furthermore, at least for me, I felt pretty carefree throughout all of it. I don’t think I was taking it seriously, exactly, swept up as I was in the energy of a group. Yet suddenly, I found myself hearing the script, hearing that only one policeman died on the scene. Realizing that I probably would not have been that policeman (despite my dramatic pose). I bumped into historical accuracy in such a way that, I expect, I will always remember those dead and wounded. Furthermore, when I climbed back up from my pose on the street, I heard four speeches as bags were placed on four people’s heads. It was suddenly somber. The subsequent speakers had an earnestness about them which I’m not sure I would have appreciated had I not been so cavalier before—because suddenly everything felt real and I was overwhelmed with a tactile experience of how our lives today have been so directly impacted by this short historical blip.

 

Special thanks to Mairead Case, Michelle Faust, Nat Ward, Kenneth Morrison, Jerry Boyle, EdMar of Version Fest, Larry Spivack of the ILHS, Pete Crowley of Haymarket Pub & Brewery, and Larry Gage of the Fulton River District Association

 





Top 5 Weekend Picks!

April 15, 2010 · Print This Article

Ahoy everyone! It’s that time again, the weekend is almost here. In the relentless march toward Art Chicago, there are another slew of TTF (through the fair) shows opening this weekend, primarily concentrated in River North. This weekend I also have work in VideoStore7.375x4x1 at The Op Shop in Hyde Park, which, by the way, has one of the creepiest basements in the entire world. But none of that is on the Top 5. Here’s what is…

1. Hagia Sophia at Spoke

Go and hang out inside a miniature model of the Hagia Sophia. Just think of it as your “safe place.” Hagia Sophia (the model at Spoke, not the Basilica in Istanbul) was created by Gwendolyn Zabicki. This is the closing reception, and your last chance!

Spoke is located at 119 N. Peoria. Closing reception is Saturday from 6-9pm.

2. The Last Unicorn Art Show at The Tattoo Factory

Ok, so, I haven’t seen any images from the show, but how can I not pick this? An entire show that exists solely as a tribute to the Last Unicorn? So awesome. Watch out for the Red Bull, and stay away from the sea shore, if you know what I mean.

The Tattoo Factory is located at 4441 N. Broadway. Reception is Friday from 7-11pm.

3. Printervention: Printing for the Public at The Chicago Tourism Center

Version Fest is back my friends. This yearly art-stravagaza organized by Co-Prosperity Sphere will be popping up all over in the next couple weeks. Head on down and check out this WPA-inspired print event.

The Chicago Tourism Center is located at 72 E. Randolph St. Reception is Friday from 5-7pm.

4. Night Painting 1995-2010 at Peregrineprogram

Paintings by Susanna Coffey that aren’t self portraits? That’s right. Stop on by Edmund’s place, but be sure to write down the number (#727), it can be a little are to find, as the building is HUGE.

Peregrineprogram is located at 500 W. Cermak Rd., #727. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.

5. In a Paperweight & Home for Hobo Too at Tony Wight Gallery

If you haven’t already been to Tony’s new place, here is another opportunity with a star line-up: Walead Beshty, Sebastiaan Bremer, Daniel Gordon, Tamar Halpern, Barbara Kasten, Sara VanDerBeek, and James Welling in In a Paperweight. In the South Gallery: Home for Hobo Too, work by Allison Schulnik.

Tony Wight Gallery is located at 845 W. Washington Blvd. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.




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.