On a rainy, muddy May day, the Dock 6 Collective staged the twelfth installment of its Design + Art Series in its Belmont-Cragin warehouse. Featuring work from thirty-six artists, three performers, three musicians and two food trucks, the show was an overwhelming immersion in Chicago’s collective artistic instinct.
Exhibited work fell along a spectrum from pure utility to pure art. The first room alone juxtaposed a long, wooden dining table (Lagomorph Design) and a surreal depiction of childhood by Moises Salazar. The latter, part of Salazar’s “Cuerpos Desechables (Disposable Bodies)” series, comprised three child-sized, child-shaped piñatas playing with Legos and Hot Wheels on a rug reminiscent of early-1990s playrooms.
Setting functional work alongside conceptual work imbued each with a sense of the other: furniture as aesthetic, art as utilitarian. Hosting a design and art show in a working warehouse complicated the nature of the space, making the utilitarian foundry an aesthetic backdrop. An actual warehouse, but also a portrayal of a warehouse—you know?
The blurred line between form and function also played out in the personal circumstances of the artists. Marc Trudeau, a sculptor who describes his work as abstractions of nature, works as a full-time architect. His single featured work, part of his “Study” series, stood about seven angular brown feet tall, resembling wood from a distance, but up close revealed itself to be Corten steel. Of the full-time artist ideal, Trudeau says, “In ten or fifteen years, would it be nice to be just sculpting? Sure. But I’m not naive about it. I just look at it as a long-term process.” Allegiances to both form and function compete within the bounds of his own life.
The same went for Dan Polydoris, creator of Death by Toys, his brand he calls “bootleg toys” forged in honor of films like “The Evil Dead” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” He does everything from plastic molding to painting to packaging, the end results resembling superhero toys you once might have encountered at Toys “R” Us (rest in peace). The “Beverly Hills Cop” toy shows a photo of Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley beside a plastic banana, referencing the film’s iconic banana-in-tailpipe scene. Polydoris resists the term “artisan”— “that sounds super pretentious”—feeling more comfortable describing his work as fan art. He also says his margins are slim, so the work is a labor of love, financially dubious but nostalgically solvent. (He supplements his Death by Toys income with freelance copywriting and proofreading).
Advancing to the second floor, the crowd thinned, but the volume of work remained the same. A World Wildlife Foundation fundraising table stood near a harmonograph—a nineteenth century invention which uses pendulums to create symmetrical, geometric drawings. Someone made a joke about Mormons, and someone else said “You get bewildered in all of this.”
It felt good to be immersed in such a variety of tasteful, provocative work, but your analytic gland eventually gets exhausted. Like a museum, you couldn’t possibly see and appreciate everything the show had to offer. The artists on the second floor got especially short shrift. An obscured stairwell, complex floor plan and fatigued patrons made for less buzz up there.
But the show worked. For patrons, it was a cost-free entree to a cornucopia of creative Chicagoans. For artists, it was exposure to hundreds, if not thousands of aesthetically savvy folks. For Dock 6, it was a robust advertisement—invited into their workshop, you felt in on it, behind the scenes, almost part of the gang. And overall, it was an effective comment on the interrelationship between art and craft: Form vs. Function be damned, long live Form + Function.