Spatial City at the Hyde Park Art Center

By Mia Ruyter

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The artworks in Spatial City, a group exhibit at The Hyde Park Art center, reflect an evolution in the utopian inclination.  In presenting this exhibit, The Hyde Park Art breaks with its traditional role of presenting almost exclusively works by local artists.  The exhibit is a the result of a collaboration between curators in France and the United States, and includes artists from around the world.  This   At the same time, HPAC is keeping true to its utopian mission to create a welcoming environment for the community to see, learn about, and make art, and to support and promote local artists.
Spatial City is named after an architecture project by Yona Friedman, which is represented in this exhibit by a series of collages, dated 1959-1960.  Friedman theorized an idealistic architecture that enhances each inhabitant's sense of freedom.  Spaces were designed to be modular and mobile, so that individual users could rearrange them for changing needs.  Buildings were designed to have as small a footprint as possible, so that they were "floating" on piers, in order to disturb nature as little as possible.  The designs are interesting, but never realized.  

Artist Kristina Soulomoukha knows something about unrealized idealism.  Solomoukha was born in the former-USSR, trained as an architect in the Ukraine, and now lives and teaches art in Paris.  Solomoukha's work suggests that if socialism was a failed attempt to create a utopian community; capitalism is also a failure.  "Shedding Identity" (2005-2006) reflects the absence of idealism.  "Shedding Identity" is a model of a collection of modernist skyscrapers.  Waist-high, encased in mirrors and photographs from popular culture, these rectangular structures represent a city.  The individual blocks do not relate to each other.  The structures are placed in a way that the mirrors seem to reflect nothing.  They function like camouflage, deflecting more than reflecting.   The photographic images are generic--a cowboy waving his hat from the back of a rearing stallion, a man photographing a buxom model on a beach, and various views of urban spaces--knots of highways, and layers of boxlike skyscrapers. Solomoukha's city is a place to travel through and forget, not a place to stay.  The images reinforce the impersonal and vacant feeling of the boxes.  As a child raised in the Soviet Union, she must have been disillusioned by communism.  But as an artist living in the West, she seems disillusioned with capitalism as well.  

Jeff Carter, a Midwestern artist, contributes "Untitled  #1 (Chicago Tribune Tower), (2009)  another sculpture that is an architectural model.  Though it parallels Friedman's proposals in superficial ways - it is on wheels, which minimize the contact with the ground and make it "mobile," the degraded materials signify certain failure.  It is constructed of repurposed IKEA products. The laminated MDF is smooth on the surface, but the edges show the interior pressed chip wood.  Small potted desert cacti sit on "decks." Anyone who has bought furniture at IKEA knows that, though the furniture may be stylish when you buy it, the life span of the materials is short.  In a few years, sometimes months, the pieces will start to fall apart, the wheels will break, the veneer will peel, the screws will strip the pressed wood and no longer hold.  The architecture proposed by this model is surely headed for disposal.   

Though Sara Schnadt's materials are no more elegant than Jeff Carter's, her installation offers more of a feeling of optimism.  She uses materials bought at the hardware store - yellow rope, mirrors tiles, and metal hooks--to create a web across the upper corner of the gallery.  The mirrors reflect the ceiling of the room - a grid.  And they reflect the windows, and the trees outside the windows.  It is an installation that looks out at the world, and sees something interesting. The building reflected in her mirrors is an art center committed to exposing the local community to new art forms, and an art gallery committed to promoting local artists to a wider audience: it has an idealistic mission.  The web could symbolize a net that catches things, like a spider's web or a fisherman's net, but it is loose, and could also act as a safety net - it supports but does not trap.

On July 6 and July 21 at 3 pm, Hui-min Tsen will be offering an alternative architectural tour of the Pedway system in downtown Chicago as her contribution to Spatial City.  If a utopian city is the product of an ordered plan, the pedway system is an anarchical system, offering an alternative pathway to individual discoveries.  It is a haphazard and unsystematic bricolage that disrupts the planned city.  Tsen's intervention uses the pedway as a stage for reimagining the history of the city.  Join the tour (reservations at
exhibitions@hydeparkart.org
) to discover another side of Chicago, not the utopian city, but a city of possibilities.  Utopia is not an achievable goal, it's a process.

Spatial City (the exhibition) reflects a variety of responses to the utopian impulse in Spatial City (the architectural project,) and also reflects the possibilities for The Hyde Park Art Center.  For a community-focused art center, it is benefits the community to welcome international artists to the gallery. It enhances the conversation for visitors.  And it brings a wider audience to local artists.  

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