by Lisette Medina

June 12, 2014

Chicago neighborhoods are distinctive, with proud residents who are often hesitant to travel out of bounds. With traffic, parking and CTA woes, who can blame them?

Sometimes it’s even difficult to escape the ‘hood within a ‘hood, as with the University of Chicago in Hyde Park and the rest of the South Side. In an effort to burst the campus bubble and also build a bridge between the south and north sides, starting with Logan Square, SHoP: Southside Hub of Production and I am 9 held an opening reception for month-long installation entitled “The Swing and the Wall” on June 7 at Comfort Station.

Exhibit Is ‘Collaborative, Cooperative’

Arts administrator Thea Nichols curated “The Swing and the Wall,” but says, “I don’t really feel like the title fits because it was such a collaborative, cooperative thing.”

Those collaborators include Laura Shaeffer, artist and curator, and artist John Preus who together created SHoP as a year-long autonomous cultural center in a formerly private Hyde Park mansion. The artists hope the “The Swing and the Wall” exhibit and June programming at Comfort Station will help them secure residence in a similar sweet spot on the South Side.

Preus is the artist responsible for The Swing part of the exhibit, a piece that consists of two overturned student desks with legless school chairs fixed to them and then suspended from the ceiling. There’s no velvet rope or security guards here; they want you to participate in the art, which was good for visitors who took turns swinging during the reception.

Kevin Reiswig built The Wall from old tabletops, shelving and pre-existing materials from his own collection. Neither artist had to scour city alleys. Chicago Public Schools provided the fixtures from a stockpile of remnants from shuttered locations.

“At first it was chaos…once they knew what I was looking for, they started setting stuff aside for me,” says Preus.

Separate Parts

The two parts of the exhibit exist independently, but the fluidity of the swing contrasts the motionless quality of the wall. Taken together, they are meant as a catalyst for play, reflection, critical thought and imagination. “The Swing and the Wall” serves as the backdrop to education-centric learning-based social events SHoP and I am 9 will present throughout June at Comfort Station, including a poetry workshop, musical performances and zine making.

I am 9 is the artist collective arm of the presenting pair with a desire to make art appreciation active rather than passive, also known as a free theater approach. Shaeffer explained that free theater uses associative thinking and unscripted moments of collaboration and discord to express creative freedom.

“What we call ‘theaters’ are for the most part buildings which show highly rehearsed entertainment to paying audiences for two or three hours several nights a week,” says I am 9 member Ben Shephard. “We want to make a space for creative activity of any kind.”

As part of the “Statistical Opera” portion of the opening reception, Preus and participant Tadd Cowen started an ambient music jam session while two school-age children recited thought-provoking comparative statistics related to education, government, history and more specifically, the newsworthy and often too-close-for-comfort status of our city: “One Hundred is a close approximation of the number of Chicago Alderman in office since 1973. Thirty One is the number of Chicago Alderman convicted since 1973.”

On the wall, in yellow, exists a 3D Venn Diagram that appropriately complements “The Swing and the Wall” and the reception’s sentiments. The circle on the left contains words on The Meaning of Life: Happiness, Work, Reason, Play, Love. The circle on the left provides The Meaning of Education: Think, Speak, Build, Write, Imagine, Translate. The space where they meet? “Go Away.”