Waste Not

Steps from a busy Pink Line stop in Pilsen, it is difficult to differentiate between discarded gallery opening flyers, crumpled McDonalds wrappers, and plastic bags floating above the sidewalk. This collection of litter, however, is not exactly trash. Each apparent piece of junk is part of While All Such Things End, the first exhibit in the WASTE series of “transitory” galleries.

This gallery sits in an alleyway between an abandoned building and an open lot filled with broken down cars. It is cut off from the busy street by a brick wall, but trash from the sidewalk still finds its way to the long walk between the entrance of the alley and the gallery itself.  The broken Fisher-Price farmhouse lying near the mouth of the alleyway could be part of the gallery, but might just be an abandoned toy–safer to step over it, just in case.

Three sheets of plywood lean against the wall of the abandoned building like canvases hung on a wall. One is decorated with painted bits of wood. A grimy Furby doll and a television remote are affixed to another, and the bed of a car seat leans against the third. A piece of chain-link fence is attached to a boarded up window with strips of bright fabric. The design colorfully mimics the shattered glass of the broken windows stories above the exhibit. Palm-sized blue semicircles cut from two-by-fours are arranged along window ledges, pointing up at the vast blue and grey ceiling created by the Pink Line train tracks and sky. Meanwhile, colorful bits of wood are crammed into the spaces between bricks.

The curators of WASTE, artist Kyle and Shannon Schlie, explain that all the materials for the exhibit were found on-site, most from a large dumpster that sits in the center of the gallery space. “We didn’t use any tools,” Kyle Schlie says. “We just came to it, used our hands, and arranged it.”

The process of installing this first gallery started about a week before the opening on May 6. Kyle liked the idea of a gallery set up in a “forgotten, off-the-map, marginal space.” Making and showcasing art in a space like the alleyway cuts out the financing needed for a typical art show, and is a subtle way of calling attention to the space, pointing out the beauty of what’s already there.

He and Shannon don’t spend time analyzing the materials or their arrangement before they begin assembling what they found in the dumpster. This explains why it’s hard to tell if the pop bottles littering the ground are part of the exhibit or overflow from the dumpster, which is still half-full of trash. Other pieces–like a notebook tacked to a boarded up window containing notes about Pangaea–seem to be in dialogue with the idea of making the alleyway into a coherent whole. Or perhaps it’s an indictment of modern art.
“Every show can be different,” Schlie says. The pair wants the gallery to become a community space, something that people will stumble upon accidentally or find by looking for it. Schlie wanted WASTE to attract people who “aren’t interested in going to a gallery.”

While All Such Things End is also vulnerable to external involvement–a graffiti tag added on by a fellow artist, for example. The pieces might even be mistaken for actual waste and removed or rearranged by the people who stumble upon the gallery. The artists themselves will come back and rearrange the space from time to time, but they’re not planning on ever uninstalling the work. In fact, they hope that those who do find their way to the exhibit will interact with what they’ve already arranged, either deconstructing it or building on what’s there. “We’re interested in what happens to it when we let it go,” Schlie says. The men who have been working in the building have already moved pieces of the exhibit around, even before the space was formally opened last Friday.

As future WASTE galleries make their way across the South Side, transforming alleyways and vacant lots, the quiet conversation between trash and treasure in these spaces will become art, as loud as the roar of the train over this first gallery. These future galleries will have no set location. Go find them.