Artist and RH bursts out of housing bubble

The Chicago Maroon talked to Charles McGhee-Hasserick, a community artist and RH in South Campus, about his work.

By Emma Broder

Have you ever suspected that your RH has a secret identity? While Charles McGhee-Hassrick might seem like a typical Resident Head who makes chocolate-banana milkshakes for study break and turns up to cheer for the house broomball team, he’s far from typical. In addition to his job in Crown House in South Campus, McGhee-Hassrick is a sculpture and installation artist who also does freelance exhibit design. He has worked at the Museum of Science and Industry and occasionally teaches at the Art Institute. He sat down to chat with Maroon Arts about some of his “crazy ideas.” Read on, dorm-dwellers, for giant bubbles, tiny woodshops, and the search for the perfect arborist.

Chicago Maroon: You have a studio at SHoP. What’s it like to hang out there all the time? How did you end up there?

Charles McGhee-Hassrick: There’s always been a huge need for studio space in Hyde Park. Thank goodness for the SHoP! When it opened, I was so relieved because I had been looking for ages for studio space, and at that point I was willing to work in people’s basements, with no electricity or water. The greatest thing about SHoP is that it’s not just a single gallery: There’s a library for poetry readings, a kitchen, a living room for gallery space. On the third floor, there’s a huge open room for yoga and meditation. I’m one of three or four people with studio space there. I built a little workshop for kids with a ton of wood, hammers and other tools, nails, and cardboard. Someone’s always doing something crazy there. It’s a fantastic vortex of cultural and artistic activity, and there’s not many places in Hyde Park where you can just make stuff.

CM: What projects are you working on now? Could you share one with us?

CMH: I just finished a prototype for a kinetic sculpture. I have four bicycle wheels set up, and they’re acting as a pulley system to pull a rope up horizontally from the floor to the ceiling. The thing is, the rope starts out submerged in a shallow tub of bubbles. I looked up the recipe for the bubble mix that made the world’s largest bubble, and that’s the formula I’m using. As the rope goes to the ceiling, a large sheet of bubble is drawn out of the tub. Eventually, of course, the bubble bursts.

I kept trying to project video onto the bubble, but it wasn’t working. I was getting really frustrated until I realized that I was seeing my own reflection in the giant sheet of bubble. So what I’m going to do is project video from the wall opposite the bubble, video that tells the story of an economic, technological, scientific, or real estate bubble—we have tons of cultural bubbles. And you’ll be able to watch the video for a little while before the bubble bursts.

CM: What else do you have in the works?

CMH: I’m working on a public outdoor sculpture, which I used a computer program to design. On the midway there’s this huge, gorgeous oak tree, and I want to put scaffolding around it. It could give scientists and other artists a chance to access the tree in a way they usually can’t, to do whatever: take pictures, or draw, or make observations. The contrast between the organic and inorganic material is so cool. The designs actually looked beautiful on the program, and I was sort of surprised! I have a long-term idea to buy a set of scaffolding and do this with historically significant trees around the world, but I need to find a biologist, an arborist, and an entomologist to develop the scientific side of the project. Like, what month would be best to study this tree? I think it’ll mean different things to the scientific and artistic communities.

CM: How do you feel about the Logan Center and the difference it could make for the arts in Hyde Park?

CMH: Since SHoP is right in the middle of Hyde Park, it’s one of the key arts organizations in the area, and I feel like it really serves Hyde Park well. I hope that the Logan can help fill the void for an arts center in the area. It seems like the Logan is as much about getting people to go see what’s going on there as it’s about what’s actually going on there, but I’m hoping it will generate a lot of good energy for the arts, and I can’t imagine it won’t. For me, it’s kinda cool because it’s two blocks from where I live. It’ll be easy for us to take students there from South Campus, almost like pick-up culture instead of a pick-up soccer game. Like, “There’s a concert going on tonight, let’s go!”