Introducing La Espacia

September 22, 2008

La Espacia

1437 W 17th Street

So I decided to start a lil exhibition space, La Espacia, viewed primarily through the street-level windows of my apartment, in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, on the south side of 17th street, between Laflin and Loomis.

My next door neighbor, Rico, was super psyched and supportive of the space. He was excited by the idea of adding color to the neighborhood- mostly Mexican, with homes of 4 generations of the same family, like Rico’s, who’s lived here with his family since before I was born.  He’d taken an active interest, checking up on me every few days through the front window during the summer, as I was constructing a wall for la espacia,  “Janky Supreme”– dry wall on one side, and shelving and a table on the other…ON CASTERS!  I could move it around to let in some light when I want, open up the space for openings so more wall and floor space could be utilized, and push the wall up against the window, with floodlights that project the heat and light of the sun into the evening, and onto art.  This is the way by which I felt best-suited to serve my block.

My block is such that– In the mornings, many of the family members set up their folding chairs on the sidewalk, and let their dogs and kids run around.  Lots and lots of ice-cream trucks pass by with their jingles.  When it gets really hot in the summer, someone’ll open up the fire hydrant and kids’ll be swimming in the street, and splashing passing cars. punkish kids with long hair are using the lot in front of the school, across the street, to skateboard– going super fast; performing tricks like jumping onto the stairs and then off again, while a friend records it all on video, his face filled with idealistic alternativism.  And down the street, the fake gangbangin’ boys talking shit, bored as fuck, posturing all hard, macho, and sexy. They used to hang out in front of my apartment’s windows.

One night, some of those kids broke into my home, and I caught them!  Two guys were trying to hide under my bed, when I came back to my house about 10 minutes after I had left. They saw me, I saw them…”what the fuck…” and they bolted out of my house.  They had climbed in through the open windows after they’d seen me leave.  Big boy, “Juan,” was the lookout, standing outside.  I knew the kids were his friends, but he tried to convince me that the people who had broken into my house were black, and not the Mexican boys who live a couple doors down with their parents, siblings, uncles, aunties, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and their great grandparents…I told him I wasn’t going to call the cops; their actions were too stupid to justify getting locked up; I didn’t want to retaliate in violence to a neighbor just because they did it to me.  What did I do to provoke this invasion of my space?  I could only imagine that to them, I was this art-fag-chino who’d invaded their hood…and then I remembered how one day, I’d taunted them with one of my wigs on.  I told Rico and other people in neighborhood, knowing full well that this information would trickle down to their mothers and that they’d beat their lil butts.

Those kids don’t hang out in front of my place any more, (Rico had a talk with the fake-gang’s leader), though they walk by La Espacia at night; One stops in front and directs his boi’s attention to the three double-paned windows of La Espacia, and says, “What the fuck?”  Since I began turning on the floodlights at night for viewing, I caught up with Rico outside, who was all smiles as he was looking at the work hung up.  He said, “It makes you use your imagination…” He seemed puzzled, yet pleased, fixated on the works, staring intently, “That one looks like a bird-house.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about “success as an artist,” or the responsibility of the artist to choose to make art for audience, and I was trying to explain to him my view that an artist in contemporary times (what with the internet), chooses the extent to which they and their work participate in various social/cultural spheres.  This friend got all defensive and kept repeating, “I’m an artist, shit, I’m an artist, that’s all I gotta say,” as though it were a strongly held virtue, his seeming decision to eschew art worlds, markets, and audiences.

Worthwhile art (outside of one’s conception of one’s own idiosyncratic mysticism), needs an audience to give value to the work and to the practice of the artist. Communities of all sorts deserve visually pleasing, interesting, worthwhile contemporary art.  This space fosters such artistic practices that exist outside the hermetic commercial art world.  Obviously, it favors work that can be hung on a wall and viewed from three dinky windows.  La Espacia is an experiment in sustainability.  It’s a love song to depressed artists, my own bitch of an artistic practice, and my dear local community, and it is an experiment in bridging these things.

I’ve been lighting the exhibition for viewing every night for the past week and it’ll continue to be on for viewing on the weekends and some weeknights.  Swing by!  I’ll be sure to keep you posted, as things develop/progress.


Young Joon Kwak

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