Meeting Room

flickr/lizzyszwaya

Last minute preparations for “This House Is Not a Home,” the newest exhibition at the Southside Hub of Production, feel more like plans for an abnormally large dinner party than an art show. I am volunteering this sunny Saturday afternoon both as a SHoP supporter and a curious outsider. As I go to wash a bag of apples for the reception, Laura Shaeffer, founder and curator, shows me how to use the split sink. The left side, strewn with dishes, is fair game. The right side, cluttered with sponges and soap, is not. “This is part of the art,” she explains, “the general rule is: if it’s attached to something, it’s art. If it’s not, you can use it.”

The exhibition, curated by John Preus, features over 35 artists from Hyde Park and beyond. It is three stories and a basement full of sprawling expression–the art overflows into stairwells, ceilings, and bathroom corners, taking over SHoP’s entire home. The building is less a gallery than a playground and maze, a deliberate collision of the personal and the conceptual. “All sorts of politics are possible in the space between house and home,” declares the show’s description, and this space proves to be quite hazily defined. The stairway to the attic is covered with snapshots of small private scenes, part of Alexa DeTogne’s “Beyond the Green Veil” series. Steps away, a man clicks away on a disposable camera, recording his family’s own moments in the gallery.

A home is an extension of one’s self into space: it is the creation, as Schaeffer puts it, of a “psycho-geography.” David Durstewitz literalizes this with his “Seven Day Self Portrait, 2/17-2/23,” a collection of the compost he created each of those days. These remnants are stored in mason jars and resemble homemade preserves, an unexpected juxtaposition of domesticity and decay. Michael Webster’s “Sphere of Influence” extends Chicago’s numbered streets to Talca, Chile, with an aerial map of 42,697th to 42,712th streets. Both pieces emphasize the difficulty of letting the objects and spaces of life become life –you are not your avocado peels, just as a Chicagoan cannot overlay the Grey City onto South America.

SHoP has its own ongoing struggles to find a home amid a host of houses. Fenn House, the current space at 57th and Woodlawn, is owned by First Unitarian Church. The lease will be up this spring, and the University of Chicago may be purchasing the building, which means that SHoP will likely have to find a new space. Ken Dunn, who has run Hyde Park’s non-profit Resource Center since 1972, mourns the area’s homogenization, which, he says, the loss of SHoP would only exacerbate.

“One thing modern life is deficient in is that everybody goes where everybody else like them goes,” he says. “This House Is Not a Home” does prove to attract a diverse crowd, at least from among the art-appreciating public–foot traffic on Saturday night amounts to over 400 people, from children who whiz by with nerf guns to wizened Hyde Park old-timers.

“This House Is Not a Home” is ultimately more of a celebration and reminder than a lament. Orron Kenyatta, resident performance poet for the night, proclaims, “a home is not in the baseboards, it’s not in the buildings. It’s in the passion.” For all the architectural appeal and enchanting crannies of the Fenn House, SHoP’s home is somewhere within the locus of interpersonal connection and the collaborations it fosters. The immense variety and complexity of the show itself speaks to the depth of the community–during preparations artists and organizers wander in and out, snacking and chatting while lending each other a hand.

For most practical purposes, home is a straightforward concept. It’s the place you grow up, the place your family lives, the place you sleep, the address your magazines come to. SHoP upends this definition, and demands an expansion. David Schalliol, a sociologist and contributing photographer, documents previously abandoned buildings that have been repurposed. His factories-turned-greenhouses and malls-turned-artist spaces celebrate the promise of places that have been given a new lease on life. Of his repurposed buildings, he says, “they may not be a home, but they may be cultural meeting places. The denial helps us see the potential of the space as something else, as all of the alternate realities.”