WEST CHICAGO – Artist Irene Pérez has lived in 11 houses.
When she thinks about those houses, she can remember the general setup of the structures – how rooms flowed from one to the next, where walls and doors and hallways sat. She’s able to create floor plans of each based solely on memory.
But in addition to the houses’ structural details, she remembers what happened inside each house to make it a home.
As part of West Chicago’s latest Artist-in-Residency project, titled “Setting Up House – West Chicago,” Pérez is taking her question of the meaning of home to the community, gathering oral histories and piecing them together into textiles that will be on display throughout September at the West Chicago City Museum.
Pérez is interviewing West Chicago residents about how they see their homes and the memories they associate with them. She plans to include the words they say – both the written word and the shape of the sound waves created by the spoken word – in the curtains she creates. The exhibit also will feature audio clips from the interviews.
“I want to know how all these different aspects of people’s lives can affect that idea of home and how can they offer me new perspectives in it,” Pérez said.
For her, language itself plays an important role in exploring the meaning of home.
Growing up just outside of Barcelona and living for nearly 11 years in the United States, she speaks Spanish, Catalan and English, and knowing these three languages has affected her cultural identity.
“There’s always been all these cultural, language, traditions, things that connect to the idea of home somehow,” Pérez said.
In her interviews, she’s heard a lot about the role of family and holidays in making a house a home. But she’s also heard some things that surprised her.
An older man she interviewed talked about his grave as his eternal resting place and final home, teaching Pérez that the meaning of home can change as the years pass.
As of Aug. 30, Pérez had conducted nine interviews, with hopes of doing a few more before a reception for the exhibit is held Sept. 6 at the City Museum. She also hopes to have some of her work completed for display at the reception, although she expects the project will take time to complete.
“Setting Up House – West Chicago” also will feature the histories of various houses in the city. Many of these are residences that were moved over the years, due to new developments that popped up around the city, said Sara Phalen, museum director.
Phalen was instrumental in the creation of the Artist-in-Residency Program, which has brought eight international artists to the city since 2008.
“I think our biggest goal with it is to bring community together, so even though we’re bringing an outsider in, sometimes that’s a little bit easier for people to interact with them,” Phalen said.
While the program has various sponsors, it is organized by the City Museum and People Made Visible, a nonprofit created by Phalen and Anni Holm, who is a close friend of Pérez and invited her to participate.
The project has allowed Pérez to take her work out of the studio and into the community to involve others, which is often difficult to do as an artist.
“Art is not only about making significant visual artwork that whoever is looking at them can relate to, have an experience to, but also bringing the actual public within the artwork,” Pérez said.