Version>09, or simply Version, could be aptly described by the instructions for artist Ashley Metcalf’s installation at NFO XPO: “Please look through the wormhole to our parallel universe.” And Version will take you down the worm’s hole, to a sprawling alternate art world of friendly artists, affordable art and beer. Parts of the Version festival are timed to precede Art Chicago, with a small overlap, and upcoming events are posted on their website.
Taking a cue from Chicago’s 2016 bid for the Olympics, Version partnered with several art groups to organize events examining Chicago’s historical international event, the 1893 Columbian Exposition. On April 25 there was a walking tour titled “A Working Man’s Guide to the Columbian Exposition,” which allowed attendees to learn about the laborers of the Exposition. The tour ended next to the Experimental Station, which is hosting King Ludd’s Analog Arcade through the first weekend in May. Physically close to the Midway Plaissance, the site of the 1893 carnival games and rides, King Ludd’s also consists of carnival-style games, made by artists. Following their Luddite title, the games are low-tech and emphatically use recycled materials in their construction. The most ambitious of these was a bike-powered air-hockey table, the actual functioning of which was uncertain at the time of my visit, though that suited the Experimental Station perfectly.
A main event of Version is the NFO XPO, an artist-run alternative art fair located in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Adopting the standard booth format, singular artists and artist collectives were exhibiting their work. Anxiety about the economy was an underlying tension, so the affordability and availability of the work on display was emphasized. Perhaps to help visitors cope with economic-fueled stress, artist Aaron Delehanty was running a psychiatric help booth, based on a similar booth run by “Peanuts” character Lucy, even cribbing her slightly rude answers. At five cents a session, this may have been the cheapest art for sale. Ray Emerick’s text-based installation is meant as a tribute to the unifying spirit of Version and its organizers, but with “E Pluribus Unum,” a phrase that appears on all our currency, writ large on the walls the economic implication comes out strongly. The capitalist mantra of the U.S. was accompanied by Emerick’s final addition, a case of Budweiser with the sign: “Free Beer,” which reminded me of Tom Marioni’s 1970-79 similar installation, “Free Beer (The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art).” Simultaneously socialist and capitalist, Emerick’s work encapsulated the opposing forces at work in the XPO.
The events of Version>09 signal alternative ways to organize a community around art and present some of Chicago’s under-represented and under-recognized artists. We can be sure to see continued projects with reused materials and environmentally focused themes. The participation of the viewer in the work, even if it’s getting advice or a beer, will continue to be important. And artists will continue to navigate our capitalist system in whatever way they can. (Abraham Ritchie)