By Jason Foumberg
Around the Coyote is re-figuring its role as a proponent of emerging artists, and has hired several new curators in specialized areas to help facilitate a rebirth. Ben Schaafsma and Stevie Greco collaborated as the curators of public art. Catherine Forster is one of the new film and video curators.
How can public art exist within the Around the Coyote Festival structure?
Stevie Greco: We both wanted to do this because we saw Around the Coyote as problematic in terms of gentrifying Wicker Park, in reality and in whatever myth that sort of assumes. This, we felt, needed to be addressed.
Ben Schaafsma: It’s a new form of public art; it’s definitely different from a sculpture on a pedestal or a mural. Rather, we’re interested in exploring the tensions between public and private spaces, or the privatization of public space, or the infringement on public space. So, we started to look at artists who use public sites as a way to make room for critical discussion about the privatization of public space. And when we say “public site” it is using an already extant public infrastructure as a site. A playful example is a group called Rebar from San Francisco who do a project called PARK(ing). They pay a parking meter for an afternoon and they reclaim a section of the street. For this festival we’re having about eight different people [volunteer participants] throughout the weekend activating parking spaces in this way.
Greco: Another great thing about the program is that it allows any number of people to participate in a variety of ways, and that way it becomes very public.
Schaafsma: Wicker Park is privatized in the sense that public space is limited; the sidewalk only used to walk from store to store; there’s no room for being slow or taking your time or interacting with people. I have a nostalgic vision of what public streets are like and what they should be in a condensed urban area.
Greco: We actually do have two public sculptures. Rich Mansfield’s project is a pigeon condominium. The obvious joke is that it’s going to sit in the middle of the park and attract a lot of birds that will shit everywhere and it’s not going to be beautiful, but it makes a comment on building too many homes in one area. Sze Lin Pang’s sculpture is a replica of Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture, but it’s sunk into the ground so you can only see the top of it.
Schaafsma: Public sculptures aren’t necessarily outmoded but these artists engage the history of public sculpture in site-specific places.
It sounds like a temporary or ephemeral quality is an important part of the “new” public art.
Greco: But there’s also a strong interest in sustainability. Just because something has gone away doesn’t mean that it isn’t important or that people can’t take these ideas with them.
Schaafsma: Public art in the past is very about form and the aestheticized object. Here, the object isn’t as important, it’s not the focus.
Greco: Aesthetics certainly aren’t our priority. The public projects can be experienced by anyone. You don’t have to know about Around the Coyote or care about it to be part of it.
How do you envision your project within the greater ATC festival scheme?
Catherine Forster: I really wanted a dedicated space for video arts, not just a bar or restaurant. The media arts are often ghettoized. I really wanted to create an environment where anybody from off the streets could experience video arts. I’ve set up a screening room with seats and a program; then, there’s a video lounge for people who are really into video arts and film and can pick from a library for private showings. There’s also an exhibition lounge with media as it is presented beyond the small screen, including software and games. How can video be inserted back into the arts? What does video art mean today in the realm of YouTube? How can it be special or have a voice when you see this massive video language that’s happening right now. Can it actually say something unique? I love thinking about those questions.
Tours of the public art projects will be lead Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm leaving from the Wicker Park Fieldhouse. “Portable Cinema” will be shown at dusk on Friday at the Algren Triangle. All other programming October 11-14, Flatiron Arts Building,1935 1/2 West North, (773)342-6777.