Meeting Midway

Courtesy of MDW Fair / Photo by Marian Frost

Two men and one woman entered a mysterious structure in the GeoLofts warehouse, home of the MDW (“Midway”) Fair. A sign at the threshold warned that the inside of the structure was dark, but promised that movement would activate light. The whole structure roared, filled with an unidentified gust of air. Inside, a spotlight shone on a big fan, which turned lazily. One of the men said, “…but the fan is unplugged! Dun-dun-dun!” They laughed half-nervously and the other said, “It’s like a haunted house…of art!”

Though the MDW Fair was hardly haunted, it was a bit reminiscent of a funhouse. Members of the Chicago art scene–independent artists, commercial gallery owners, and unincorporated galleries–brought their finest and strangest, including a start-up moveable bar, a bike-trailer house sculpture and twenty feet of recycled clothes and grapefruit rinds. So much was going on at the GeoLofts that it was easy to miss art pieces and their fascinating creators tucked away in corners.

Courtesy of MDW Fair / Photo by Marian Frost

The MDW Fair was created as a joint project by the Chicago cultural organizations threewalls, Roots & Culture, and the Public Media Institute. According to the event website, MDW’s organizers hoped the event would “demonstrate the diversity, strength, and vision of the people/places making it happen in the art ecology of our region.” Though the mission statement seems opaque, the message is uncomplicated: ecology is, after all, about relationships. At MDW, Chicago artists and art aficionados celebrated their interconnectivity by coming together in that sunny warehouse space to show off their things—-many of which represented collaborative efforts and shared ambitions.

One of the producers of AREAchicago, a free yearly arts publication, attested to the unity of the Chicago arts scene. “Everyone kind of knows everyone,” he said. “It’s very incestuous–that’s it: incestuous.” He laughed, gesturing to a copy of Lumpen magazine at the next table over, adding that Lumpen had a habit of covering the same stories as AREA, but with different takes on the issues.

The same names were bandied about in conversations with different people through the course of the afternoon, and it was obvious that the attendees are part of a tight-knit community. Every other person, when asked how they had ended up there, said something like, “Well, Ed Mar [Ed Marszewski, co-director of Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere] called me up and said, ‘Get your butt down here!’”

Across the river from Ed Mar’s well established art collective, the immense building served as both community gathering place and art object. Hardwood floors soared up into beams holding up airy windows and exposed hardware. The GeoLofts’ name suggests the owners’ hope for the space: to build a “living laboratory for evolving sustainable technology and a blueprint for future private development, in a community of likeminded businesses that collaborate on ideas and services.” True to their mission, an example of working geothermal heat was shown in the third-floor lounge, near signs that called for businesses and artists to move in.

But it was hard to know the true potential of the warehouse’s sustainable energy ambitions, because, as part of the exhibit, the second and third floors had been stuffed with, well, stuff. A tiki bar, a reflective gold tent, and a woman caressing passersby with a boot could be found in one area, making the sight of a plain armchair seem almost surprising.

The armchair and a corresponding couch belonged to Joseph Rynkiewicz, of Hornswaggler Arts, an “experiment in art commerce” that illuminates the cycle of the arts community by emphasizing its own sustainability. Hornswaggler sells cocktails at art events and uses the profits to buy a work of art from the featured artist. They now hope to create the Hornswaggler Collection and loan these pieces  to homes and businesses, continuing the self-sustaining cycle of Chicago artwork.

The MDW Fair brought together dozens of projects, like Hornswaggler, and offered forums for discussion, support opportunities, cocktails and snacks. Attendees included art students, of course, but also elderly folk, and young parents with well-swaddled babies. Sustainable ecologies are all about pro-creating and passing down genes and, as evidenced by the enthused stroller-riders, it is clear Chicago’s art lives, and will continue to do so.