‘SightSoundSpace’ brings together wider Chicago art community

FOTA’s ‘SightSoundSpace’ gave students the opportunity to showcase their art off-campus.

By Alice Bucknell

Walking head-down to avoid slipping on the sheet of ice layering the sidewalk, I rapidly pass by the Reg, whose blocky facade looks more like an igloo than a library tonight. The Southside Hub of Production (SHoP) emerges from the darkness as something of an oasis to a winter night’s traveler. Out from its many windows stream light, music, laughter, and, most of all, warmth. With a twist of a doorknob, I’m ushered into a delightful ambiance: Smartly dressed youth chatter merrily as they move freely throughout the three floors of the building, while fine art of every medium imaginable covers every nook and cranny of the house.

The University of Chicago’s Festival of the Arts (FOTA) presented its second annual SightSoundSpace event this past Saturday at the SHoP. Approximately 20 artists from around the Chicagoland area exhibited their artistic productions, which ranged from puppets to infrared photography. The event’s exhibitions were fitted around the longstanding contents of the SHoP, resulting in something akin to an artistic funhouse: Guests were invited to explore every room, hallway, and staircase of the building, all of which served as gallery space. Carefully rendered ink illustrations of cathedrals lined the narrow corridor leading to the third floor, where a video installation was set up in a porcelain bathtub. Meanwhile, a room full of antique radios and a bathroom-turned-candle-lit tarot reading room awaited guests on the second floor. Live music from the first floor floated through the entirety of the house, creating a warm atmosphere reminiscent of a cozy house party.

Youthful vivacity abounded, with artists ranging from undergraduates at the College to those completing master’s degrees at other schools in the city, all converging to create an environment quite different from most arts events presented by RSOs. “SightSoundSpace is unique in that it embodies the art scene of Chicago entire, not just the University’s area,” said Adrienne Swan, the artistic director of FOTA, . “It’s an off-campus event that features local artists as well as UChicago students, which makes for a larger, more professional environment.”

Unlike the ten-day art festival put on by FOTA in the spring, SightSoundSpace exhibits all artists who wish to share their work with the public, regardless of their affiliation with the University. Such freedom guarantees a fascinating array of contemporary artwork sure to please spectator and student alike. “It gives students a nice way to interact with other artists and the outside world,” Shola Farber, executive director of FOTA, said. “We purposely select an off-campus venue to house the event, which distinguishes it as a more sophisticated venue for people to exhibit their artwork.”

Among the event’s array of startlingly unique works was Ethan Tate’s collection of infrared photography. Color infrared film, long discontinued by Kodak, is extremely difficult to find—Tate himself purchased several rolls from a small supplier in Germany, reputed to be the only carrier of fresh stock. “My photos are completely unedited,” he said, pointing to a vibrant shot of a magenta-colored tree. His photos, in addition to several colorful snapshots of the natural world, also include portraits, which he hopes to experiment with more in the near future. Some of the musical performers included Gene Lee, a third-year psychology major with a futuristic, techno sound and Northwestern’s Fuzzy Moons, an indie rock band with a guitarist, bassist, and singer.

With its pleasant crowd, live music, and warm setting, FOTA’s SightSoundSpace was an enjoyable and illuminating exhibition of the local contemporary art scene. But what makes this annual event one of a kind is its integration with art exhibition centers not affiliated with the University. Working with the artwork, furniture, and atmosphere intrinsic to the SHoP while organizing SightSoundSpace was “difficult to envision, but fun to improvise,” Farber said. Watch out for the upcoming 10-day Festival of the Arts this spring and mark your calendars for next winter’s edition of SightSoundSpace—an event certainly not to be missed.