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Art Sat Jul 28 2012
The streets of Wicker Park are filled with upscale boutiques and gourmet taco shops, but the neighborhood was once reborn as an artist's enclave. Like many parts of Chicago, Wicker Park has undergone transformation, both good and unfortunate. The last legs of gentrification usually ensure that the artistic colonizers that first remade the neighborhood are pushed out. And yet, many artistic practices (even those still gaining footing in Chicago's fickle art community) remain. Defibrillator, a performance art gallery, has quickly established itself as an epicenter for emerging and established local, national, and international performance art in the city. For the 2012 Wicker Park Fest, the gallery curated (with a grant from the Wicker Park/Bucktown Chamber of Commerce) Air Pocket Project, a series of five inflatable performance installations located at the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and Wood Street. The Wicker Park Fest runs from noon to 8pm today and Sunday, July 29.
In Jake Myers' Short Court: Tight End, a miniature inflatable field was created for an audience-participatory-football game. The appeal of the project lies in its ability to render athletic advantage useless. For those not interested in sports, their apprehension often lies in its exclusivity. Without the ability to actively participate it in, an activity like football can often feel isolating. Unlike more democratic sports such as soccer or basketball, football's role as sport often lies in its visuals. Myers describes it as "weirdly crass and commercial," and that people are typically, "involved in the culture of buying it, but not participating in it." However, Myers' project aims to eliminate that distance by creating a field that is limited in scale. "Anyone that's good at football will not have an easy time participating in this," said Myers.
The inflatable structure is made with an astroturf floor, pvc frame, pvc mesh, a tarp ceiling, and a fan to keep it inflated. Like many of Myers' past projects, Short Court: Tight End is a work that physically engages the audience. "People typically stand and watch, and I don't like that," Myers said. Rather than act as a mere spectator, audiences have the chance to participate, to activate the artwork. An artist will also participate as the defender trying to swap the ball down between two audience participators to prevent injury, but also regulate the level of participaton. A winner of the game will be announced at the end of the day.
In another project, Relatively Inflated I, Hideous Beast (Josh Ippel and Charlie Roderick) will fly a camera overhead with helium balloons and participants may put on goggles to see themselves from above. A sort of analog version of Google Maps, the project addresses our need for a mediated device to help us navigate. The idea first began with Roderick around 2004 or 2005 when he was in graduate school. Roderick initially investigated the means in which one could create a perspective from which one has to navigate.
Hideous Beast's work often deals with ideas of survivalism and a communal-based world, this latest project included. Participants are asked to see the work, to activate it, and to ask how they relate to it. "How do we position ourselves in space?" Roderick asks. "It's hard to ask people to change their patterns." In the case of Relatively Inflated I, the audience are the creators of the thing they are enjoying. Rather than passively enjoy experiences created for them, the audience is given a chance to "create" their experience, to direct the action and create an environment that reflects their own skills and use of the device. The work addresses our use of fabricating desire, of passive versus active engagement. Do we rely too heavily on things that package and control our emotions, predicting what we will want? With their current work, the audience navigates their own enjoyment. "The work is only as good as your level of engagement in it," Ippel said.
But the work is not solely created for the function of participation. Ippel and Roderick create each work with the function to solidly stand as an image or metaphor on its own. Rather than become comfortable with one's environment through individual navigation of trial-and-error, our use of devices such as smart phones has eliminated that practice while simultaneously rendering us incapable of gaining a firm grasp on our surroundings. With Relatively Inflated I, navigation will sometimes feel disorienting, confusing, and challenging, all aims that Ippel and Roderick feel ground the work substantially. "We gravitate toward work that makes the viewer conscious of themselves," Rodderick noted. "It's about motion, not movement."
Air Pocket Project runs Saturday, July 28 and Sunday, July 29 from noon to 8pm and is located at the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and Wood Street. Additional participants in te project include Claire Ashley, Marianne M. Kim, and Heeran Lee.