Refinery29’s “Turn it Into Art” immersive 29Rooms experience last year stoked anticipation for this year’s follow-up event, the “Expand Your Reality Experience.” One-of-a-kind installations by Janelle Monae, Queer Eye’s Fab Five, Shani Crowe and Maisie Cousins wowed guests last summer as they walked through rooms meant not only to please esthetically but to encourage and inspire.
Collaborators joining the Chicago leg of this year’s tour include The Hoodwitch, Uzumaki Cepeda, Trap Bob, Carlota Guerrero, local artists Yvette Mayorga and O.J. Hays. Each of these artists are celebrated for thought-provoking and imaginative work, and their installations and performances are ready to engage audiences at the Skylight at the Chicago Board of Trade building in July.
Mayorga says that her “Dreaming of a Dream” installation will use the larger-than-life playful iconography commonly found in her work. Her widely celebrated, colorful “iced” dreamscapes will feature a pink slide, toy soldiers, consumer objects and swans in a space that conjures visions of the Rococo, inspired by the Polly Pocket toy line, to allude to an imagined American dream.
“The way I create my work is informed by familial labor in cake decorating, construction, candy production—every work I create I am using the same labor of piping onto a canvas in order to address these gendered labors while also commenting on immigrant labor specific to my familial history,” Mayorga says. “The work I make addresses my experience, the way I see the world, all acknowledging the labor that has contributed to my position as a maker.”
Chance the Rapper’s youth-empowerment charity SocialWorks will be represented at the event by a collaborative mural project led by O.J. Hays—a strong force in Chicago’s art, skateboard and music scenes as well as part of Chance’s creative team. Hays chatted during mural construction at Lacuna Artist Lofts, the SocialWorks headquarters. “Good job you guys, this looks awesome,” Hays tells the kids as they plop paintbrushes into cups of poppy red, lavender, bright blue and creamy orange on a table beside a massive ten-by-twenty-foot mural. What started as a line drawing of the Chicago Board of Trade Building, where the mural will hang during the 29Rooms event, is a mess of color that Hays calls a “scribble jam”—scribbles and marks made when the paint is still wet and starts to blend together.
The color explosion created by five groups of twenty-five kids ages six to thirteen from Kids of the Kingdom (K.O.K.)—one of the initiatives associated with SocialWorks—will be refined and touched up by Hays before the event. The SocialWorks mural focuses on a building meaningful to Hays for many reasons. As an avid skateboarder and lover of architecture, the building and the space it occupies represent an iconic part of Chicago history and city life.
“It’s a lighthearted, colorful, playful painting of the trade building that is about to hang in that building, which is crazy,” says Hays. “It’s a crazy experience to be painting it and then having all of these kids who are living in this city working on it. A lot of them grew up here and they’ll see a picture of it when they’re older and might think ‘I worked on this huge painting of an iconic piece of Chicago architecture.’”
Hays exudes energy when he talks about working with the kids, and showing them the ropes of art and animation. When he stresses the importance of fun in art-making, his eyes light up. Hays has been an artist for as long as he can remember, focusing first on traditional work before getting into animation in college. His approach to working with kids starts with a free-flowing conversation about what they like, the kinds of cartoons they watch and the art they’re into. He admits he sneakily turns these conversations into lectures by incorporating fun tools into easy lessons. Dry erase boards, an iPad and a GoPro are among his favorites. A lesson on stop-motion animation involves taping a figure-eight on the floor and having the kids stand along the tape.
“I’ll have them all jump at the same time and we shoot a photo then jump again, shoot, and so on, so now they’re involved in the process and can see how it works,” he says. “It could be as simple as ten to fifteen pictures on a loop where their feet are never touching the floor and they look like they’re flying in a circle. It’s a very basic animation thing these kids can understand how to make themselves.”
The kids of K.O.K. who worked on the mural with Hays are part of SocialWorks’ five initiatives. The others are Warmest Winter, which works to raise awareness and relief for the homeless and transient community; Support CPS which raises money for Chicago Public School Systems; My State of Mind, a new initiative focused on mental health; and OpenMike which partners with the Chicago Public Library to present a space for high school students to share, express and network. Hays designs all OpenMike flyers and creates most of the promotional materials for these initiatives as well as merchandise for Chance.
The event also welcomes innovative brand collaborations. 29Rooms is a unique opportunity to engage with artists like Mayorga and Hays, who are committed to highlighting their communities and fostering communication.
At the Skylight at the Chicago Board of Trade building, July 18-27, 29rooms.com/chicago, $34-$49.