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Art Thu Oct 15 2009

Stolen at Garage Spaces

php5wYKEA.jpgMike Bancroft is an interdisciplinary community artist from Chicago and the founder and executive director of Co-op Image, a Non-Profit youth arts organization.

Gapers Block interviewed Bancroft at the site of his newest art installation, Stolen, which re-creates the claustrophobic space of a pawnshop out of a 3 car garage, executing a caustic aesthetic with ill installed faux wood paneling, low dropped ceilings, and mismatched fluorescent lighting.

How did you come up with the idea for this show?

The idea was born out of the Shepard Fairey copyright debacle. He was suing artists for appropriating his images while he was entangled in a legal battle with the AP for stealing an image himself. So sending out cease and desist orders to artists seemed contradictory and offensive. I went to his show in Boston, which was very heavily guarded, and I had to get photos of myself in front of his work -- I had to take the opportunity to see what I could do. I got some photos, and I decided that I wanted to sell those photos in front of the museum to bring this full circle. Experimenting with ownership of idea was sort of the loose premise of it, and I wanted to showcase the documentation, so some of it is in here. I got the idea for the installation because a hardware store was going out of business on Fullerton and I saw the shelves and the security mirror and these disparate pieces, and I was able to envision this labyrinth of spaces. It came from that and from discussions that I was having with my friend Evan Plummer, co-curator of this show.

How was Stolen executed, and how did the collaboration work?

Execution happened piecemeal. Even the building materials are appropriated in some way, with the exception of the actual studs and the drop ceiling and the wood paneling. The lights came from the Co-op art center. I had been storing them in my basement with some other stuff, and the collection resembled a pawnshop as it was. As far as the collaboration goes, Evan helped me put this all together and then the rest is from Co-op artists who understood this process of appropriation and they entrusted their objects to me, so that they were able to be integrated into this ridiculous labyrinth.

Are the objects for sale?

Yes, it's sort of a parody of how sad the art market is and playing with this commodification idea and this concept of ownership. The artists who brought objects keep 100% of the proceeds, so it's not for financial gain in any way shape or form, but it is a way for people to sell their objects. It has a garage sale kind of feel; it's an anti-pawn shop in a sense.

Because the show is called Stolen, can you explain how it relates to theft?

Theft of idea, theft of object, and appropriation bordering on theft. Also considering about the history of the objects, the lineage of objects, and how they ended up in this space, in the same way that an art piece has a lineage between collectors. If someone famous has owned an object, the object is worth more, even though it's entirely arbitrary.

What do you hope to accomplish with this installation?

It is meant to inspire some thought, some questions, and make people smile. It also speaks to the idea of sustainability in art spaces. This is a temporary space -- I need my garage spot back by January. It is in my backyard, but I'm opening up my backyard and my garage to the community as a whole. One of the problems with the gallery world is that it doesn't really address that, or it dismisses community as a separate world. Stolen is meant to function as a lens of dialogue between disparate communities.

How does this piece fit into your larger artistic practice?

Community is inherent to all of my processes. Like all my work, it is about process and collaboration, not money. The only way that we're funding this project is with plastic out of my pocket. We're doing a dinner party on the 18th; we're doing a four course dinner -- charging $60 a head -- to offset some of the costs. I'm hoping to break even.

How do you feel about art in Chicago?

There is an amazingly vibrant artistic community but there is a huge division. There are a lot of publications like Gapers Block and Art Letter to spotlight what is going on in the city but there is very little connectivity as a whole. That's also relative to the geography of Chicago. There are inherent lines drawn, inherent divisions between communities. It's one of the most segregated places and that segregation plays into the art world as well. But I'm a fan of Chicago art.

What inspires you?

Laughter and people. People always make fun of corporations for "yes men" (people who will say "yes" to what you do no matter what it is that you do), but I think it can be great thing. It is inspiring to throw ideas by my friends because they say "Yes, and you should..." I think it's the best way to get stuff done, that DIY attitude. It is possible if you put your mind to it and have a collective of people who put sweat equity into it.

How does "place" fit into your work?

This space is a response to Humboldt Park and a depressed economy. I brought some kids in here earlier this morning, and how they got it versus adults, or people who knew who I was, was interesting. The fact that there was an understanding in both instances, for me, is what makes this piece successful. The piece was read entirely differently but it was still read in the way it was intended.

How did the kids react to it?

Their initial response to the "Meth Lab" piece was that if that was real, you could do life. Then, we ended up talking about how ugly that space is, how depressing it is, with the lighting, and how uncomfortable and unglamorous it is. We talked about having to be de-contaminated if it was actually really a lab. Last night, at the opening, the discussion was more about ownership of ideas and the kids took it more literally, but the literal interpretation has the same meaning.

What are your thoughts on gentrification?

That's a complicated question. I'm not a fan of the homogeny that comes with gentrification in any way shape or form; it really solidifies the isolation of communities that are culturally vibrant. People who lock themselves in and hole up and drive their cars from their garages to Whole Foods two miles away -- it jeopardizes a community that has history that I really love and respect. That's sort of what Co-op is about, and what a lot of my art is about. Being the one who crosses a line, invites people in, explains themselves, and is helpful to a community as a whole, listening to what the communities' needs are, what the issues are. Not in the traditional sense like, "These kids are poor, I'm going to throw some money at the problem," but really working with the kids and mentoring them and instilling that mentoring role in the older kids. And that question of gentrification has been a thru line in all of my work, understanding the question from both sides and trying to find some sort of answer to the question.

Stolen will be on view through Oct. 30 at Garage Spaces, 1337 North Maplewood (back yard). Admission to Garage Spaces is free.

Gallery Hours: Saturday, Oct. 17, 12-5pm, Friday, Oct. 30, 5-10pm, and by appointment.

Contact Mike at 773-216-5580 for information about the dinner party on Oct. 18th.

Check out these pictures of the installation:


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Dargerrific / October 16, 2009 8:47 AM

What is this reference to meth lab, halfway down? Was something edited out? You start out talking about a pawn shop, and then 'meth lab' comes out of nowhere. (Are these one and the same in Humboldt Park?) From that reference and the photos, just curious if the whole effort is an homage to and/or ripoff of the brilliantly staged "Black Acid Co-OpĀ©" show at Deitch Projects in New York this summer:

fred / October 16, 2009 11:53 AM

Dargerrific brilliant post really brings home the interview!

Kelly ReavesAuthor Profile Page / October 17, 2009 1:58 PM

Yes, the meth lab is part of the pawn shop installation. Sorry for not being more clear about that. In regards to the reference to the "Black Acid Co-Op" show, I'm not sure if she was aware of the piece. According to the pawn inventory sheet, the piece is by an artist named Jasmine K. Perhaps she doesn't want to reveal her last name because of the subject of the work? I will ask Mike what the deal is...

Flash Abc / October 20, 2009 2:56 PM

best show i been a part of. props to mr brancroft

Kelly Reaves / October 20, 2009 4:46 PM

OK, for the record, Jasemine didn't know about the Black Acid Co-Op show. What a coinkidink. That's called collective consciousness.

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