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Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College’s RISK exhibition takes on art’s new frontier: social change

January 28, 2014

by Cara Birch

What would a wedding be like with 100 strangers? Does Alderman Harry Osterman and the residents of the 48th ward hold a secret to happiness? Can one make voices “visible” on the subject of gun violence in Chicago?

These are only a few of the questions considered and explored in Columbia College Chicago’s ambitious city-wide exhibition, RISK: Empathy, Art and Social Practice, running Feb. 10 – April 26. Featuring more than 60 artworks and performances by established and emerging artists engaging in various political and social issues in Chicago, RISK also reveals for the first time ever, the vast network of social practice projects embedded throughout the city.

Co-curated by Columbia College’s Neysa Page-Lieberman, director of exhibition and performance spaces and Amy M. Mooney, associate professor in Art + Design, RISK grew into an expansive survey of Chicago social practice art by including artist networks and collaboration with numerous organizational partners. With additional support from the Joyce Foundation—which provided a $25,000 grant for the exhibition—RISK distinguishes itself as the most diverse exhibition/program of social practice art to date.
“Chicago is renowned for being on the cutting edge of socially engaged art, and the artists involved in this exhibition are profoundly diverse in their practice and subjects,” said Page-Lieberman. “This has been an exciting challenge to present all together, but with the collaboration and support of partners across the city, RISK showcases some of the most influential artists working in this art form today.”

The exhibition involves an unprecedented activation of more than 25 museums, galleries, schools, community centers, businesses and other non-traditional art spaces across Chicago, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, 6018North, Hyde Park Art Center, the Rebuild Foundation, and other organizations and institutions. In these settings, RISK asks artists and audiences alike to engage in a city-wide experience of dialogue and social cooperation exploring topics ranging from Chicago’s gun violence to defining “happiness” in the 48th ward.

RISK presents artwork at the vanguard of the social practice art movement and encompasses a wide breadth of contemporary issues. The recent rise of the movement can trace its roots back to the 1960s, yet today’s artworks are largely influenced by post-9/11, Occupy Wall Street, the Great Recession, the fight for marriage equality, immigration and other contemporary social issues. 

“Social practice art challenges conventional notions of art ownership and the expectations of an object-oriented experience,” said Mooney. “This exhibition invites viewer participation that reveals the reciprocal nature of the artistic process, hopefully leaving audiences with indelible marks on civic consciousness and political enfranchisement.” 

The exchange between artist and audience, and the unique storytelling projects that sometimes spend years in development, like Kirsten Leenar’s Not In Another Place, But This Place... (Happiness) has presented an ongoing challenge for some institutions presenting art conceived outside of traditional formats. Yet, Columbia College doesn’t shy from non-traditional formats.

The divergent practices of the artists in the exhibition also reflect the significant role that risk and empathy play in their work, encouraging audiences to take action in ways they may have never considered before. RISK is highly experimental, with uncertain outcomes on any given topic. For some artists, their installation could take an entirely different direction between the opening and closing of the show, all depending on the input and participation of audience. 

In order to cover the breadth of issues the artists explore, the exhibition weaves together installations and performances throughout the city—from Hyde Park, Bronzeville and the South Loop to Albany Park, Edgewater and more. 

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Alberto Aguilar’s Lunch Room Expanse and A Personal Dinner Invitation: A Wedding to an Unknown Couple, the latter of which invites a real-life couple who responds to a Craigslist ad to have a wedding ceremony and celebration with 100 strangers invited by the artist.  
  • Samantha Hill’s Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance, which documents past and current stories from the Great Migration to the current arts and cultural resurgence at multiple installations at Hyde Park Art Center, Blanc Gallery and Glass Curtain Gallery and performances at Parkway Ballroom and Sacred Keepers Youth Garden.  
  • Kirsten Leenaar’s Not In Another Place, But This Place... (Happiness) a three-channel video installation, whose cast members include police officers, students, community activists from the 48th ward, and Alderman Harry Osterman, who ask: who is responsible for happiness? A live screening and performance will be featured at 6018North.
  • Faheem Majeed’s Shacks and Shanties which serves as a temporary home and collaborative platform for artist interventions, performances and community engagement.
  • Cheryl Pope’s Just Yell continues the artist’s exploration of ways to visualize the voices of Chicago youth who are impacted by gun violence. Pope and students from ChiArts and the MCA Creative Teen Agency will stage a series of performances and events including a memorial parade called Silence the Silence.
For more information on the exhibition and related programs, visit www.colum.edu/RISK

Images from top:
Samantha Hill
Great Migration, 2012
Installation in Faheem Majeed's How to Build A Shack
Photo by Tony Smith

Faheem Majeed
Shacks and Shanties (Sacred Keepers Youth Garden), 2013
Installation in Bronzeville

Alberto Aguilar
Tabletop Silhouette Theater Entertainment at A Personal Dinner Invitation, 2012
Performance by Bryan Saner and Teresa Pankratz at SHoP in Hyde Park 
Photo by Michael Metts

Kirsten Leenaars
Not In Another Place, But This Place... (Happiness), 2013
Video stills from 3-channel video
Videographer: Paul Deuth and Will Goss