The Glass Curtain Gallery is a fitting venue for an exhibition about vacancy and regeneration. Its South Loop neighborhood is on the verge of a residential boom, while the nearby West Loop has been transitioning from a meatpacking district to a trendy area to live and dine.
The exhibition consists of three installations by “artist-architects” Emmanuel Pratt, Andres L. Hernandez and Amanda Williams and their collaborators. Each piece connects with a Chicago-based community project in an under-resourced neighborhood with a large number of vacant buildings and lots, aiming to spur social change and reveal opportunities in these open spaces. Given this focus on the urban environment, it is apt that “Vacancy” is a partner exhibition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial and a featured program of Chicago Artists Month, which emphasizes “creative activity in Chicago neighborhoods.”
Visitors cannot miss “Ecology of Absence?,” a compelling, multi-part installation worthy of its own show. Its presentation attracts visitors by evoking familiar domestic settings—a kitchen, living room and backyard—with an inspirational story inside. The installation is a result of a project involving Pratt, several professional collaborators and Chicago youth called “There Grows the Neighborhood,” a “pedagogical exercise in transforming waste into resources,” according to the gallery. Wood furniture and a greenhouse-like structure filled with plants and pictures documenting people growing produce demonstrate the power of collaboration and the efficient use of resources.
This installation also alludes to immaterial impacts of the project: samples of furniture designs include student drawings that were turned into professional architectural renderings, hinting at progress made from humble beginnings, while the exhibited picnic table suggests social interactions over a meal. Furthermore, the proliferation of plants emanates messages of growth and vitality, and the “reclaimed” American flag writ large on the gallery wall implies the American Dream; its hand-made quality indicates the hard work needed to achieve it.
Together, Williams’ and Hernandez’s installations powerfully address race, gender, memory and trauma in occupied and abandoned urban spaces. All the exhibited pieces demonstrate how collaborative and creative efforts are making a difference in Chicago’s constantly shifting urban environment. (Amy Haddad)
Through November 14 at Glass Curtain Gallery, 1104 South Wabash
Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert is a curator, critic and editor. She is the inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. She was formerly Curatorial Fellow at the Chicago Artists Coalition, Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.