Continuing my trend of Brummie activity in Chicago, I interview Sarah Silverwood who spent time in the Windy City.
She visited Chicago to make new connections and carry out research for new work on public housing and even left drawings behind to be found in and around the city!
Sarah joins me for a QnA as she tells me more about her visit and what inspired her to become an artist.
Hi Sarah, please introduce yourself?
I am a visual artist based in Birmingham UK. I have a drawing based practice, often bringing together historical material with ideas from pop culture, and playing with narrative forms, like a tabloid newspaper, a comic book or a fabric pattern.
Like myself, you have an interest in Chicago. What attracted you to the city and how did you put that into your drawings?
Ideas around place, cities and architecture have always influenced my work, in particular my comic CITY and the body of work LIVING CITY.
These projects had centred around constructions of identity within urban culture. I had been researching the differing layers of history within cities, in particular researching the idea of a city as a place for living. Chicago has an incredible history relating to its public housing in particular, which has undergone major upheaval. Although the buildings may have gone, layers of stories and identities remain in a landscape. The sheer size and scale of Chicago, and its fast paced regeneration, was an incredible starting point for a new project.
In October, you visited Chicago as an artist in residence for Chicago Sister Cities International. What is an artist in residence, and how did that come about?
An artist residency is a broad term that covers programs that organisations offer to artists and creatives, which gives time and space outside of their usual working life to produce new work, provide a time of reflection and/or undertake research.
Chicago and Birmingham are sister cities, and Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI) supports cultural exchange between the two countries. I was invited by CSCI and the British Consulate in Chicago to be artist in residence in Chicago to expand my networks, initiate projects and make new work. They helped instigate meetings and suggest projects that might be useful to visit in relation to my work.
While there, you teamed up with web developer Appoet, who launched an app called Infused.
How does Infused work, and what pictures of yours can those who download the app expect to see?
My work has an ethos behind it inspired by an open source culture, often resulting in mass produced publications or prints as counterparts to a physical work, or free digital downloads of works. I think it is important to consider how the format of a conventional gallery hang can be expanded to reach more people and give an alternative mode for the distribution of art.
With this in mind I used Infused as a platform for exploring the idea that people could experience art in the place that the artist intends. Infused is a hyperlocal broadcasting and publishing app, allowing you to leave art in physical locations. As users pass these locations in real life, they will receive a push notification. I have left drawings to be found in Chicago, so that you can follow my walking route and download free digital artworks as you go. This allow you to experience the work in a public setting, where I intended you to see it. Also, the majority of the artworks will be only available to see in this way, so it will be a unique experience.
Describe the creative process behind your art in Chicago?
I spent a lot of time researching material for new work on architecture and housing – taking photographs, meeting people, looking at archives. I spent some time behind the scenes at the Art Institute of Chicago looking at works on paper. This research will develop into a new body of work soon. While I was there I also made a lot of drawings of buildings in the city, which fed into my work with the mobile app Infused. These are available to buy as a limited edition hand coloured print series, called Battles of Mathematics, available to buy from my website.
Both cities share a rich industrial past and both are considered the second city in their respective countries.
From an artists’ perspective, what similarities and differences do you feel Birmingham and Chicago have?
The most immediate thing I noticed was the water: before coming to Chicago I hadn’t realised the impact that Lake Michigan and the river have on the landscape. It feels so unusual to sail through the skyscrapers on a river taxi, and it’s also one of the best ways to get around and to see the skyline. In Birmingham, the canals are so important to its heritage, in terms of trade, transport and its landscape. I often walk and cycle up along the canals and it was interesting to see another city where water is so important to its infrastructure.
Like Chicago, Birmingham is undergoing fast regeneration. There are numerous projects in Birmingham that are trying to preserve the heritage of communities through oral history projects, digital archives etc. When in Chicago I visited places like the National Public Housing Museum to discuss how they are doing similar things for their communities. For me this reinforced the importance of these projects – and also how similar themes arise in both cities: immigration, political influence, poverty, gentrification of areas and changing property values.
Did you find many opportunities to explore Chicago outside of art contemporaries?
My favourite place in the evening was Andy’s Jazz Club on East Hubbard Street. I loved the Original Pancake House for a proper American breakfast. Millennium Park was brilliant place to discover an open air concert, follow a sculpture trail, or just sit and have your lunch with free wifi.
It was also great to visit students and staff at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as I have worked with various Universities in the UK and it was good to see how things differ in the US, and the variety of public programs that they offer.
Being in the presence of other artists there and visiting art galleries, were you inspired by any ideas from your time there which you have brought back with you to Birmingham?
I was really inspired by Mana Contemporary, an arts center in Pilsen. It houses studios, exhibition spaces, classrooms, a cafe and library. I saw the center mid-development, and learned how they could afford to provide affordable studio spaces and high quality facilities. Emerging artists work side by side with established artists, and the whole organisation had a collaborative and adaptive atmosphere. This was interesting model to see, especially as Birmingham has a studio shortage and new projects like Birmingham Production Space are trying to get off the ground.
Are there current projects that you are working on?
I am currently working on a new book called WEST POINT, charting the 55 year history of an award winning housing estate in Allesley, UK. This follows a short residency at the estate, where I am currently meeting residents and researching the architectural significance of the estate. This will be out on 12th June 2015.
This project will eventually tie in to the research I did on housing in Chicago, in particular looking at the layers of history that a piece of land can hold.
I have also just finished a new large scale commission for the New Art Gallery Walsall, which will be part of their permanent collection.
Thank you for your time Sarah and I look forward to see you continue to push out awesome artwork!
Check out Sarah’s website by clicking here. You can also follow her on Twitter and like her page on Facebook to stay updated with her latest art work.
For more information on Chicago’s Sister City relationship program with Birmingham and its other cities, click here.
Like my Facebook page, Sister City Love: From Birmingham to Chicago by clicking here.
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