“People keep pulling up and then immediately driving away,” said a bemused Allison Lacher, one of the local organizers of the Terrain Biennial, which held its preview night Saturday in Enos Park, with festivities spread throughout the neighborhood. “That’s not usually the way things go at art openings – it’s a little disconcerting.”
The Terrain Biennial – which began in Oak Park, Illinois, in 2011 and is described in press materials as “an international exhibition of site-specific art made for front yards, balconies and porches” – came to Enos Park last weekend, with artists from various locations converging on the neighborhood to decorate and otherwise transform 17 spaces, ranging from homes to vacant lots, into unique works of installation art.
Attendees at Saturday’s preview night were given a map of all the locations (covering a range of blocks between Third Street and Seventh Street) and most immediately set off, either on foot or by car, to check out the uniquely spread-out exhibition, which included spooky projections on house windows, repurposed Christmas ornaments and a balcony snuggled up in a giant quilt, among many other sights unusual for any neighborhood, with some positively disconcerting in Enos Park.
In addition to the site-specific artwork, there were several events spread out through the neighborhood, including a few film screenings in people’s yards, including the 27-minute Sundown Town, a sometimes upsetting meditation on racism and denial by Chicago artist Cassandra Davis.
In the Enos Park Apple Orchard on Bergen Street, Chicago artist James Pepper Kelly and curator Ruslana Lichtzier hosted a workshop wherein they invited visitors and residents to peel apples – later to be baked into apple crisps by Kelly – while engaging in conversations about ways the Enos Park neighborhood and the city of Springfield itself could be improved, using Vachel Lindsay’s utopian novel The Golden Book of Springfield as a lens (and local poet and Lindsay scholar Ian Winterbauer on hand for good measure).
Michelle Ownbey, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association (as well as publisher of Illinois Times) said that the neighborhood came to be involved when she was approached by Lacher a few months back. “I wasn’t familiar with Terrain Biennial but she told me a little bit about what they do up in the Oak Park area,” she said. “We’ve been working hard the last few years specifically to attract more artists to the neighborhood, especially with the new artist residency program that the Springfield Art Association has started. Our board thought it was a great idea – we’re all about anything that brings people to the neighborhood for positive reasons.”
Although many of the neighborhood residents responded with enthusiasm, not everyone got the memo, according to Ownbey. “I got a lot of phone calls and inquiries from neighbors who weren’t sure what was happening. In fact, one neighbor had seen a man and woman going into one of our vacant properties and I think they were about ready to call the police on them because they took a picture of them and sent it to me. I told them I was pretty sure they were artists,” she said with a laugh. “Even though we had put it in the newsletter and tried to let the neighborhood know what was going on, some people were caught a little off-guard.” On the other extreme, a few neighbors volunteered their homes to be decorated and were passed over, sometimes in favor of vacant properties. “I think some of them were a little hurt that they didn’t get picked but I tried to reassure them that their houses were just too nice to be chosen.”
Ownbey, whose home was among the sites chosen by artist, said that even her husband was somewhat taken aback when he first saw what artists Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades had done.
“He said, ‘What’s that in our front yard?’ I told him, ‘It’s art!’”
The Terrain Biennial in Enos Park will run through Nov. 15. For additional information send an email to email@example.com
Contact Scott Faingold at firstname.lastname@example.org