Reflections, Refugees, and Luchadores: “Living Architecture” at 6018North
By Melanie Juarez
As I drove down Kenmore Avenue, I was unsure of where 6018North would be. Of course, it was at 6018 N. Kenmore Avenue, but what does an art gallery on a small, residential street look like? The answer: it does not like an art gallery, because it is a house. A normal, cement facade house. In fact, the only way 6018North is distinguishable from its neighbors is the neon-painted banner on the front fence and the blue plastic installation hanging on the porch.
Entering 6018North is an incredibly strange experience. I expected to be greeted by a typical bored college student working at the front desk, but there was no desk or student. Just a normal entrance, albeit empty and dilapidated. There was a dark stairwell to the right, and a vast, open space to the front: not a single person in sight. I could hear voices from somewhere above, but no one came down to greet me. It was a little scary, actually.
6018North is currently hosting Living Architecture, a show that focuses on the role of immigrants and their labor in the United States. Tricia Van Eck, the curator at 6018North, who eventually came downstairs to say hello, said the show was brought together to respond to “the attack of the current [presidential] administration on the contributions and talent of immigrants.” Over 50 immigrant artists are included in the show, which is spread out over the four floors of the empty house.
The house was damaged by flooding in 2011, revealing the building’s interior structure, decades of paint layers, and bricks in the walls. This gives 6018North an antique and somewhat alarming charm. Although you can see the people milling around on the floor below you through gaps in the floorboards, the really dangerous parts are closed off, so you can expect a non-life-threatening visit. One of my favorite parts of the worn-down building is the sign hanging in the basement with the question “Are there spirits in the basement?” written on it. The answer is no, but yes for the second and third floors, each room of which is labeled to indicate its level of spirit habitation. (“Third floor, room 2? Yes, crime scene” says one.)
The work of over 50 artists in this show incorporates everything from emergency blankets to bubble wrap to hundreds of tiny luchador figurines. It took me two and half hours to see everything, and even then I had to rush through the last floor. The sheer breadth and quality of the work speaks greatly to the show’s intention to highlight the creative achievements of immigrants. The show was also hung expertly; no piece felt out of place or just plopped down.
One artist’s work that was displayed particularly well was that of Moises Salazar. Created in response to reports of immigrant children being held in facilities at the U.S. border, his two pieces, “Vamos estar bien” and “El Aguante,” are life-sized pinata sculptures of children. In one corner, two children crouch together, and against the wall another is wrapped in an emergency blanket.The sculptures are covered in brightly colored tissue paper, save for the hands and feet, which suggests the frightening idea that there are children somehow stuck inside and may move at any moment. This is elevated by their display in the basement, the creepiest part of the entire house. Not only does the display make the piece scary, but it also highlights the concept; the pinata children are being kept in an unsuitably cold and dark basement, much like the children being kept in similarly unsuitable facilities at the border.
Salazar’s sculptures are only one of many interpretations represented in the show. Some artists’ works are angry, like Aram Han Sifuentes’ “American Hasn’t Been Great Since 1492,” a protest blanket bearing its title. Others are reclusive, such as Lise Haller Baggesen’s “The Library of Refuseniks,” an immersive library tent meant to create a personal sanctuary. Others are grand, like Oscar I Gonzalez Diaz’s impressive “Floor piece (6018North),” a “carpet” “woven” out of hundreds of Mexican-style luchador figurines, which viewers are invited to step on. However, it is not just the bold and busy work that is important; one of the most powerful pieces in the show is Irene Haiduk’s “Monochrome.” At first glance, it is just another pretentious blank canvas of gray paint, but upon reading the wall text we find out that under the layer of gray is the text of a diary written by an officer who oversaw the concentration camp that Haiduk’s grandmother survived through. We are left staring once more at the canvas, wondering how horrifying the account must be to have to be hidden under thick gray ink.
The strength of “Living Architecture” is this variety of approaches to the topic of immigration. Every piece in this show, whether clever, funny, or saddening, is a compelling contribution to the conversation about our relationships to our histories, to our homes in this country, and to each other.
“Living Architecture” will be up through December 23. However, 6018North is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm, so there are only a couple of opportunities left to see the show. “Living Architecture” is one of the most unique art shows in Chicago right now and is well worth the drive to Edgewater and a couple hours of your weekend -- just be sure to bring a friend to brave the basement with you.