Ex­hi­bi­tion asks hard im­mi­gra­tion ques­tions

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - Lori Wax­man Art at Large “Liv­ing Ar­chi­tec­ture” runs through Dec. 23, 6018North, 6018 N. Ken­more Ave., 773-271-4918, www.6018north.org. Lori Wax­man is a free­lance critic. [email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @chitribent

“Wel­come to de Yu­naited Es­tai,” pro­claims the door­mat at 6018North.

Made by Esper­anza May­obre, it’s as fit­ting a greet­ing as can be — both to the coun­try and to “Liv­ing Ar­chi­tec­ture,” a show of 50-plus artists that has taken over this ram­bling North Side man­sion. The ex­hi­bi­tion has a tri­par­tite theme of la­bor plus ar­chi­tec­ture plus im­mi­gra­tion, which sounds like a big mess but ends up be­ing just right for this mo­ment in Amer­i­can his­tory. It’s been a hell of a sum­mer: More than 2,000 chil­dren were sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies and taken into U.S. cus­tody while try­ing to em­i­grate across the south­west­ern bor­der; the Supreme court up­held Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ban on travel from sev­eral pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries; and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions an­nounced that vic­tims of gang threats and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence no longer qual­ify for asy­lum pro­tec­tion.

A house mu­seum turns out to be the per­fect place to deal with the sub­ject of im­mi­gra­tion, es­pe­cially a house mu­seum in Edge­wa­ter, one of Chicago’s most eth­ni­cally di­verse neigh­bor­hoods, with an in­flux of res­i­dents from the Horn of Africa and the for­mer Yu­goslavia hav­ing ar­rived over the past two decades. What is im­mi­gra­tion, after all, if not the penul­ti­mate test of hos­pi­tal­ity?

As proof of its gen­er­ous re­cep­tion of strangers, the en­trance to 6018North has been made even friend­lier than usual. The red car­pet that ex­tends from the side­walk to the front door is there as al­ways and the lawn chairs (in­scribed “peo­ple tend to sit where there are places to sit”) have dou­bled. New is Al­berto Aguilar’s jazzy ban­ner, which wraps around the front fence shout­ing “ii­i­i­i­iin” to those on the out­side and “fluxxxxx” to those on the in­side be­cause, well, get­ting through the gate is only the be­gin­ning. The veranda has been pret­tied up by Tom Bur­ton­wood and Maryam Taghavi, who hung up an enor­mous acrylic de­sign — based on the stone rosettes en­cir­cling the front door — that col­ors the porch in yel­low and blue swirls when the sun shines through. Their fun house mir­ror arch­way, mounted right above the door­way, gives pause: there you were, here you are, and doesn’t it all look so strange?

Once in­side the ob­vi­ous place to go is through Julie Oh’s glow­ing green door­way bla­zoned “DOC­U­MENTS,” pa­per­work be­ing an in­ex­tri­ca­ble part of the le­gal process of en­ter­ing a new coun­try. But it isn’t just that. Doc­u­ments are his­tory, and the weighty — as well as aes­thetic — past of im­mi­gra­tion gets its due in art­works by Eu­ge­nia Cheng, Ji Yang and Emilio Rojas, who con­trib­utes a wall-size draw­ing of an un­built and un­abashedly pompous mon­u­ment to col­o­niza­tion, orig­i­nally de­signed for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Ex­po­si­tion. Rojas re-cre­ated the il­lus­tra­tion last year dur­ing a 60-hour live per­for­mance, done in the nude while stand­ing atop a stack of his­tor­i­cal tomes at EXPO Chicago, the art world up­date of the world’s fair. In­stead of a pen­cil, he used the edge of a me­mo­rial sil­ver half-dol­lar from the orig­i­nal ex­po­si­tion.

Im­mi­gra­tion isn’t co­equal with im­mi­grants, how­ever, and many of the art­works in­spired by in­di­vid­ual sto­ries — Alex Chitty on Haeger Pot­ter­ies, Yvette May­orga on her grand­fa­ther — feel more ele­giac than con­dem­na­tory. Jan Tichy’s two in­stal­la­tions, both in bath­rooms, honor the Hun­gar­ian emi­gre Las­zlo Mo­holy-Nagy, famed for his ex­per­i­ments with mo­tors and light. In the base­ment WC, a red neon sign spell­ing out “Jew” pulses like a painful re­minder of why the artist left Europe a few years after the Nazis came to power; up­stairs, shift­ing squares of pro­jected light mod­u­late that most pri­vate of a home’s “Un­ti­tled” by Jan Tichy

spa­ces into a sub­tly mes­mer­iz­ing cham­ber. In an at­tic room, Yvette Brack­man’s cop­per and alu­minum door­ways, el­e­gantly draped with beaded peach chif­fon, re­call the long-ago pas­sage of her great aunt Re­becca from Theo­dosia to Paris by way of a four-year de­tain­ment in Con­stantino­ple.

Other art­works deal more ex­plic­itly with the plight of im­mi­grants to­day. Moises Salazar’s heart­break­ing pi­nata chil­dren — life-size sculp­tures of boys and girls with ce­ramic hands and feet pok­ing out of fes­tive pa­pier­ma­che bod­ies — sulk about the house, suck­ing on lol­lipops, slouch­ing in a cor­ner, wait­ing to have their in­sides bashed out. A board game de­signed by Tizziana Baldene­bro in­cludes a deck of cards printed with ab­surd-but­true sce­nar­ios that play­ers must per­form; choice sam­ples in­clude “Trip any­one that walks past your house,” in­spired by a pho­to­jour­nal­ist caught top­pling Mid­dle Eastern refugees at the Hun­gar­ian bor­der, and “Build a flag­pole that is taller than your neigh­bor’s,” based on the shenani­gans of North and South Korea. A col­or­ful Mex­i­can car­pet by Os­car I. Gon­za­lez Diaz is in fact hun­dreds of luchadores fig­urines, la­bo­ri­ously cast and painted by the artist, ar­ranged on the floor to form dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns that fray at the edges with ev­ery visi­tor who walks on their backs, en­joy­ing the ex­cel­lent cush­ion­ing. The fish­eye dis­tor­tion of Sabba Elahi’s tidy em­broi­deries — of a woman nurs­ing her child and an­other wear­ing a veil at the su­per­mar­ket — nod to the tech­no­log­i­cal and cul­tural sur­veil­lance en­dured here by Mus­lim women.

With dozens more art­works spread through­out the house, hung on walls, strung up in the stair­wells, fill­ing bed­rooms and even tucked in clos­ets and un­der the stairs, it’s hard to know where to go or how to take it all in. Some­times it isn’t even clear how a par­tic­u­lar artist or art­work fits in. Couldn’t the cu­ra­tors — a team com­posed of Tri­cia Van Eck, who runs 6018North, Teresa Silva and Nathan Ab­hal­ter Smith — have been more se­lec­tive? Shouldn’t they have left some of those artists out, rather than risk invit­ing too many and ru­in­ing the show for those al­ready in­cluded?

But that would have been the same old im­mi­grant story as al­ways.

JESSE MERED­ITH PHO­TOS

“The Li­brary of Re­fuseniks” by Lise Haller Bagge­sen

De­tail from the in­stal­la­tion “Now as the Closer” by Ye­se­nia Bello

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