A more perfect union

“I hate zucchini,” one little boy, clutching a cluster of grapes, declared to two artists. He was one of the impossibly large hoard of hip children running through the halls of the Southside Hub of Production on Saturday night. “I hate, hate, hate it. It could mold and die, and you wouldn’t even know, because it’s green.” One of the artists replied, “Everything molds. Someday you’ll mold and get all gross, too.” The boy gasped. “No! I will never mold!”

“Toward a Union of Public Artists,” the celebratory opening for a month of rotating artwork in the wonderfully chaotic art mansion known as SHoP, wanted to engage patrons of wildly different backgrounds in conversation as equals–though perhaps not explicitly on the state of zucchini. With artists taking residence in designated spaces throughout the building, enfolded even in its closets and bathrooms, guests were invited to seek out a definition of a “Public Artist.”

At the foot of the main staircase, seamstress Hoyun Son glided across the floor in a kimono fashioned out of a plastic tarp. Maps covered the kimono, drawn in marker by fifteen Chicago citizens, defining the places that mean the most to them. Pictures of homes, scrawled out by the same group, decorated her left arm. On her right, work places: hospitals, studios, and office buildings. Smaller patches of plastic attached by magnets covered her garb, which guests clumsily pulled off at her behest. On the dismantled pieces they found photos of the faces Son had carefully chosen to represent Chicago: one patch revealed a burlesque dancer, another a doctor at the University of Chicago.

Above, overhanging the three flights of stairs, artist Samantha Hill strung together collected photographs that dangled from ropes of white yarn in an imagined chronological progression. The photographs, both donated and found, prompted memories of the braces- and acne-ridden years of youth.

The trail of yarn led from the photos to Krystal DiFronzo’s massive loom and Eleanor Ray’s mending workshop in an adjacent room, where a closet light randomly turned on and off. Ray’s “Frankensweater,” a felted sweater with knitting needles embedded in its mismatching arms, pockets, and buttons, swayed in the nonexistent wind. DiFronzo cranked her loom, which made an eerie creak. “Man, this sounds so much like a medieval torture device,” she laughed. “It’s haunted here,” whispered an observer. “Haunted with creativity.”

The squeaks of the loom melded with the dim murmur of distorted dog barks rising from below. There on the ground floor, Alexander DeGraaf’s massive electronic music tower, complete with guitars clad in ragged scarves and holiday lights, united the guests in dance. Here the conversation took a different turn, as nine-year-olds and sexagenarians howled along to the music.