Monday, August 15, 2011

A Look Back: Built Festival

Sometime in early July, I came across an event that looked pretty appealing to the adventurer in me. The "Built Festival" was to be a gallery district/city built from giant storage containers in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I found out that a few artists that I'm friends with were going to be showing, so I checked out the Built website for more information. There was still time to apply, so I put together a little proposal for my own work and applied. It turns out the organizer, Tristan Hummel, I had met a few times and we were both in the same graduating class from SAIC in '09. Tristan had organized Art on Track (an entire CTA train filled with artist installations) for the last handful of years. I really appreciate Tristan's dexterity for plugging creativity and innovation into a bigger landscape of experience and participation. So, I was very pleased when Tristan got back to me with a thumbs up, I was in.

I surmised that I would use the festival as a test run for a portion of my early Chicago series of work. See how people engage with the history and information of the work that I've been feverishly creating for the last year, I really wanted to open the dialogue for this work and see how people react.

About a week after being accepted to the show, Tristan emailed me with a little twist in the plans for the event. There was no more space available for artists in the shipping containers, they were filled up. I had the option to still participate, but I would need to come up with a plan for an alternative space outside of the containers. Quickly, I came up with an idea. I would rent a Uhaul truck, and hang my work in the cargo area. I would still be in a container and I would also have the opportunity to have my own little gallery, which was perfect. Set up was pretty easy, with the tie down rails along the inside.

I was showing 6 paintings in a 10ft Uhaul with a ceiling clearance of about 6ft. I had informational plaques to go along with each painting giving context to the work, and I had a little step stool leading up to the cargo area. (small miracle that no one got hurt climbing in!)

The violin player had one of my favorite performances of the event, she was with the group Happy Collaborationists. My Uhaul was just to the left of her playing that first night of the show on Friday. It was pretty fantastic to have that overhead. There were several music acts that performed and several other interesting performance art pieces that popped up regularly throughout the show. Those performances coupled with the crate installations made the opening night really something to behold.

Built was to be open again on Saturday the 13th pretty much all day, 11am-10:30pm. Weather reports were hairy and the skies started turning ugly at about 2pm. Soon it started raining and a couple of art refugees took to safety in my Uhaul with me. Along with the rain it started hailing in huge chunks and the roof to my truck was a thunderous riot. Luckily for the artists most work was safe in containers along with the artists themselves. It lasted for maybe a half an hour and finally the storm passed, for the time being. All in all, Saturday, the second and final day of the festival was an up and down roller coaster due to the weather. Music acts had to cancel and attendance was down. There were still interesting highlights such as the Jazz workout video performance with candy cigarettes and crowd participation, which was quite a sight!

There were some big bumps in the road the second day that really effected the overall experience of the show, both uncontrollable and preventable, and I think the organizers are probably well aware of all of the issues. This was the first year of this event and things were being learned on the fly and for the most part worked out splendidly. It probably shifted perspective of what an art festival could be, and opened doors for more exploration into that. I hope that this event can continue for years to come and I have confidence that it will. I thank Tristan for giving me the opportunity to show my work in that setting. Throughout the show, hundreds of people climbed into my Uhaul to look at my work about the adventure and tragedy of early Chicago history that I have been so enthralled with these last few years. People were engaged and curious. I could have spent hours talking to each and every one of them if I could, and they responded in a very encouraging manner. I gained several contacts throughout the show and met several interesting artists and art patrons.

My test run of this early Chicago series of paintings, in my mind, was a shining success and only gives me more confidence to push this work to higher and more lofty levels. My next step is going to be very important and I encourage everyone to tune in and see what happens.