Immigrants have always shaped the rich history of Chicago through their art. Celebrating their contributions today and of the past, 6018 North, a nonprofit for experimental arts and culture, partners with Art Design Chicago to curate a multidisciplinary, citywide show by inviting more than fifty Chicago contemporary immigrant artists. Co-curated by Tricia Van Eck and Teresa Silva, “Living Architecture,” features on- and off-site installations as well as programming throughout the summer that precedes the exhibition’s official opening on Labor Day.
The first off-site programming kicked off on July 28 with Dr. Sharon Grimes, director and curator at the Richard Bock Museum in Greenville, Illinois, giving a tour of historic Tree Studios. The downtown Chicago space, originally built in 1894 by Judge Lambert Tree and his wife Anne Tree to house artists, currently hosts design studios and businesses. Grimes explained that the ornamentation on the Ontario complex of the studios—Greek bas-reliefs on the main structure, the heads under the large windows and the motto on top of the windows—is believed to be the sculptural work of Richard Bock—his name doesn’t come up often enough in the architectural history of Chicago, but this first generation German-American contributed a significant amount of sculptural designs to buildings associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Dwight Perkins as well as other architects.
The house on 6018 North Kenmore, a Chicago landmark that today houses the 6018 North gallery, originally belonged to Max Eberhardt, a German immigrant lawyer who advocated for immigrant rights. In the spirit of bringing these histories to life, the basement of the gallery holds a display of pickling jars (symbolic to his remains), an original document he signed and a picture of the lawyer himself. Eberhardt commissioned Arthur Woltersdorf to design the building, who in turn collaborated with Bock, thus coming full circle with the immigrant origins of this exhibition.
Following the Grimes tour, Tom Burtonwood, an English artist based in Chicago, built a performance-maker space on the pavement beside the Tree Studio building in response to the text “Art is Long, Time is Fleeting” that appears on the structure. Inviting the audience to participate in his exploration of the texts, he asked them to trace over stencils of the text rearranged and embossed on wood using crayons on paper. Burtonwood’s individual practice deals with perception and, in this case, he is interested in the different ways that Bock employs to communicate with his audience using Greek mythology, photographs of the Tree family and art to give the building character.
Deriving its name from the book “Living Architecture,” by Arthur Woltersdorf, a first generation German-American, the show breathes life into architecture around the city while paying tribute to the immigrant labor that went into it. Some of the other off-site venues include the Jane Addams Hull House and At Home in Chicago house museum. Back at the Edgewater space, Van Eck has invited more than thirty artists to host a biweekly “Working Studios” series.Each two-hour session invites the public to engage with artists while they make their work and opens the floor for conversation about their practice. The show is both a showcase of diverse talent as well as an exercise in trying to untangle this idea that immigrant labor is a threat to the American economy. By excavating sections of history that overlooked immigrant involvement in the making of American cities, their role in various industry and their consequent impact on the political and social make-up of the United States, “Living Architecture” takes an interactive approach to the issue.
The off-site performance series concluded with Venezuelan artist Carlos Salazar Lermont wrapping himself in foil, then placing a portable stove and cast-iron skillet on the pavement. He invited the audience to make arepas, a bread made in Venezuela and Colombia, with him. He created a pocket out of the foil on his body, filled it with flour and salt, then poured water over himself, which flowed into the dry mixture and kneaded into dough—a collaborative effort between artist and participants. A sense of community was quickly established as everyone participated in the making. Responding to the immigrant in Bock, Lermont wove his personal experiences of migrating from the troubled regions of Venezuela—which is undergoing a food crisis—to a political complex like the United States.
Each artist at the show uses their practice, personal stories and identity to navigate the prompt for this massive exhibition. Celebrating art history from the past, building connections to the present and finally engaging citizens, who have to live through today’s political reality, Van Eck and Silva have taken on the task of not only entering new footnotes in history but also expanding the narrative to make room for new, more inclusive forms of art.