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Out & About

‘Sense of Place’ offers museum-goers a look at local art

Suburban Life Magazine

T he Elmhurst Art Museum is diving into new territory with their next exhibition, “Sense of Place.” 

Set to kick off on December 10, the juried show, the museum’s first-ever open call exhibition, features pieces from local artists and others nationwide and is slated to run through February 12, 2017.

The exhibition will be curated by Frank Tumino, curatorial chair of the Elmhurst Artists’ Guild, Carrie Secrist, owner of the Carrie Secrist Gallery, and Jenny Gibbs, executive director of the Elmhurst Art Museum. 

“I wanted to do a juried exhibition as one of the ways to celebrate our 20th anniversary,” Gibbs says. “It’s the first-ever open call exhibition and hopefully not the last. I’d like to do this every year.” 

The open call exhibition is basically a blind review. Artists from all over the world submit their work and the three judges choose which pieces they want to feature, without knowing the artists or where they are from.

“The common thread between them is the place; the challenge was for them to bring us work that somehow conveys a particular sense of place; sometimes that’s representational, sometimes it’s sound, sometimes it’s more evocative,” Gibbs says.

It wasn’t easy to narrow down all of the submissions. Gibbs says that of 400 submissions, the three jurors had managed to whittle it down to 50 a week before the final deadline, but still needed to get it down to 30-40. 

“It’s a really subjective process,” Gibbs says. “It’s not something I can quantify to determine if it’s effective. A lot of it is emotional.” 

One of the interesting aspects of an open call exhibition is that the artists can be someone located across the country, a new artist who has never had their work displayed, or even your next-door neighbor. The judges make their choices purely based on the work submitted. 

One of the local artists selected, Elmhurst resident David Wallace Haskins, has had a connection to the Elmhurst art museum since he was a child. 

When he was in fifth grade, he moved across the street from where the museum is currently located, and would walk through Wilder Park multiple times a day his entire childhood. 

“I spent many hours in that space,” Haskins says. “It’s an understatement to say I have some connection to the space.”

Haskins recently wrapped up a solo show, “Presence,” at the Elmhurst Art Museum, which featured three rooms, “Light Seeing Light,” “Soundcube” and “Void Room” that encourage viewers to interact with sight and sound, and simply be present in the moment you are living in. 

“My work is about slowing it down enough for you to be present,” Haskins says. “I want to create a little bit of disorientation that can create reorientation.”

One of his most notable pieces, which the museum is in the process of trying to purchase, is “Sky Cube,” an 8’x8’x8’ steel cube which is situated in front of a 4-foot bench made of limestone on which you can watch the sky move across the surface of the cube. 

 “I investigate boundaries between contrast and phenomenon and things that are seeming incompatible,” Haskins says.

His newest experiential piece set to be featured in “Sense of Place” is called “Summer : Winter,” and it plays upon two contrasting phenomenon. The idea behind it was being on one side of the sun and traveling to the other side. 

“One side it’s very cold and everything is dead and quiet, and there are no sounds of summer and no ambient sound, especially when there’s snow,” Haskins says. “You have this dead sound, dry air, and no animal sounds, and very little sound of people. 

“On the other side, we’re in the same place in the same space but it’s so different,” Haskins says. “It’s brimming with light, there are crickets, leaves, softball games being played, tennis balls, and the park just comes alive. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose those.” 

His piece is designed to be an experience for museum-goers. The idea is that you will be in the museum looking out on the snow and winter scenery, but the sounds in the room will be of the summer. 

“You’re literally standing there at 1 p.m. in December and you’re hearing the sounds of 1 p.m. in the summer,” Haskins says. “Everything is synched up in time. It’s amazing what your imagination can do for you. It’s very disorienting, in a fun sense.”

To achieve the product, he went out in the park with multiple microphones and recorded the sounds for 10 hours in August.

“Hour for hour, minute for minute, it’s the exact time and place… just six months earlier,” he adds. 

Another local artist selected for the exhibition is Cassandra Swierenga, currently the president of the Elmhurst Artists’ Guild. 

Swierenga always had a creative side growing up, but it didn’t really hit her until around 17 years ago, when her children were grown and she decided to take a painting class at College of DuPage. When the professor made a comment to Swierenga about possibly continuing to paint, she followed her advice. 

The piece selected for this exhibit is “Best Medicine,” which is an oil painting of her two sisters, her mother and herself, pictured laughing the day after Swierenga’s daughter’s wedding. 

“The whole family was just sitting in the backyard, and I had a nephew who was snapping all kinds of photos,” Swierenga says. “He caught that moment of all of us laughing. We don’t remember what we were laughing about, but when I saw the picture he took, I sort of filed it away under ‘project ideas.’”

This year, she decided it was time to sit down and paint it. 

“When I was painting it, our family was going through some difficult circumstances,” Swierenga says. “It was great to come home and work on the painting and enjoy today and be thankful for today. It brought a smile to my face, because it is kind of my own therapy.”

Swierenga notes that the painted ladies all are wearing primary colored shirts, because they were her first real relationships. Her mother, Sylvia Van Zee, is wearing yellow, her sister, Rene Vaatenburg, is in blue, and her oldest sister, Wendy Voss, is in red. They also have heads slightly larger than their bodies, because Swierenga wanted to emphasize that they were “laughing their heads off.” 

“When I thought about place, initially I thought about an actual physical place, like a home,” she says. “But when I thought more about where I felt like I belonged, I kind of thought about the people in my life, and how I feel more of a place with them than an actual physical place.”

Another artist being featured is Dwora Fried, a Los Angeles-based artist who was born in Vienna, Austria, and studied French literature at the University of Tel Aviv and art at the Avni School of Fine Arts in Israel before settling in the United States.

Around 10 years ago, Fried found herself traveling back to Vienna two to three times a year to take care of her mother, who had dementia. 

“My mom had kind of stopped talking,” Fried says. “So I went to IKEA and bought some boxes at the time. They had glass fronts, they were small, and they were all the same. My mother had so much stuff in her house, so I started filling [the boxes] up, thinking I was going to make memory boxes. But all of a sudden I realized I was developing a new kind of art.”

Fried’s mother was a holocaust survivor, and had always told Fried that when she was 10, she had to leave everything behind and never got the chance to have a childhood or play with dolls. So as she got older, her mom began collecting dolls and other trinkets and her house was filled. 

“[The boxes] were small, claustrophobic, and reminded me of my mom’s apartment, which brought up a lot from my childhood and what it was like to grow up in Vienna,” Fried says. “I submitted [my pieces] because of the theme. The sense of space and home spoke to me because that’s what my art is about.”

Fried had two pieces selected for the exhibition, “The Blues” and “Camouflage.” She uses her own photographs in her pieces, and all of the toys and elements used are collected from flea markets she visits on her travels. 

“I’m mostly attracted to things from the ‘40s and ‘50s, because they have a sense that someone played with them,” Fried says. “You’re touching someone else’s life. I always wonder which children played with it.” 

Each artist has a different vision of their own “Sense of Place,” which is what makes this exhibition so different and unique for everyone.”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the work together,” Gibbs says. “It’ll be nice to see a lot of the artists come to the museum, introduce themselves to each other, and play off each other. It’s basically a big dinner party with mystery guests.”

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