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BUILT: An Interview with Tristan Hummel

Tristan Hummel is an extraordinary creative. His notoriety came from the last three years introducing the first ever public art experience on a CTA train called Art On Track. It is a widely anticipated annual event by Chicagoans and it is one of the most broadly accessible art related ‘goings on’ in the city. Anyone can enjoy the experience. You don’t have to be an art collector or well versed in the arts to benefit from the kind of experience that Art on Track brings.

This year, he’ll be at it again—megaphone and all. But this summer there’s a second addition. A little different, a little similar, the project is called Built. And if you are not familiar with what will be taking over the Aldi parking lot in Wicker Park, no problem. Tristan was available for a preliminary interview to discuss what the project is about and how it originated. The event launches this FRIDAY, August 13th.

Built Concept Image. (Image courtesy of Tristan Hummel)

Nicolette Caldwell: You are Tristan Hummel, an amazing coordinator, collaborator, organizer and leader. You are known for Chicago’s annual event, Art on Track. So I am curious, what led you to put together your upcoming project, Built?

Tristan Hummel: I love it when you start with the hard questions!  It felt like a good time to do something new.  It feels like a lot of terms are on the rise like; alternative space, guerrilla exhibition, apartment gallery, street art, whatever. There is an increasing public interest in artists outside of institutions.  I’m more on the curatorial production side of things so I have been really fascinated by the DIY art exhibition.

NC: Could you explain what this project is about?

TH: Built is a city being created out of shipping containers.  Inside these containers local artists have been given the chance to curate and install works, exhibitions, performances, etc—of their choosing.  The city is roughly 30,000 square feet.

Physically, it is about creating a space that is immediately profound on sight.  I choose to go with “bigger is better,” figuring that if I made something larger or more intense than anyone else, it would get that kind of attention.

Conceptually, it is a platform for local artists to gain attention to their work by having access to that ‘profound’ quality mentioned above. For example, it’s like inviting someone to your art show versus inviting someone to your art show…on the moon.  Yes, the space is important.  One of those two invitations will get more RSVPs.  So I’m providing the best space I can for these guys.  It’s also free for the artists to participate.

Art on Track 2010. (Image courtesy of Tristan Hummel)

NC: Where did the idea originate?

TH: There are so many sources of inspiration for this project. There are large communities around using shipping containers as buildings and also Art as alternative space.  There wasn’t one singular source that inspired me to do this particular project.  Maybe George Lucas?
NC: Who is participating?

TH: A TON of people this year—some regulars, some new, and some completely bizarre.  I’ll paste a list after this but it will be abbreviated.  The common thread between all these artists is adventurism and handsomeness.

House of Frog
Silver Room
Dave Sharma
All Saints
Alex Magana
Happy Collaborationists
Ray Doeksin
Team Art!

NC: What was the selection process like?

TH: I feel like the artists select themselves.  I ultimately get to choose but I rarely turn someone down. I had someone email me last week with a PowerPoint—A presentation! They are now one of my most anticipated new curators this year.

NC: What will some of the participants be doing?

TH: It’s hard to say not having seen it. Generally, I imagine that the participant will have a really good time.  It’s going to be like an “eye zoo” (for lack of better words since children might be reading this). So much of the work has never been seen before—Not just new in it’s content, but in terms of how its made and what it does.

NC: Why should people come and check it out?

TH: Because you’ve never seen anything like this and you’re unlikely to again.  Seriously this art exhibition is going to be a miniature environment.  Some of the best artwork in the city is being shown and to top it off, snobbery is out the window.

NC: How is it different from other outdoor art events happening this summer?

TH: This is not a craft fair.  I love craft fairs.  Renegade Craft Fair is one of my influences but we are not selling some hemp key-chains here.  This is fine art.  These artists are here to show their work. I feel like that is an important point.  It’s not booths of people trying to sell you work (like every other art festival).  It’s a bunch of people trying to show you their work.  When you get beyond the sales pitch you hit a really honest place where creation comes first and the pressures towards economic solvency is, momentarily, forgotten.  It’s a refreshing dip outside of societal norms.

NC: How will this project serve the community?

TH: In the ways mentioned above and also, looking outside the artist community, the larger community will get exposure to the arts.  My festivals have consistently brought new art appreciators to the table.  It’s never too cheesy to want and introduce the fine arts into someone’s life.

NC: What does Build add to the art community in Chicago specifically?

TH: An opportunity to get their work shown with some serious support.  All our corporate sponsors leverage their connections to spread the word; the local news gets behind it.  You can’t get a better opportunity outside of the major institutions.

NC: How has this project changed since you first conceptualized it?

TH: Initially I wanted to have a series of shows, one a month for four months.  It was good that didn’t happen.

NC: Over the last few years you have coordinated Art on Track. To my knowledge, you are doing that again as well. Yes?

TH: Yes, I will be running the train again.

NC: How is Build different from Art on Track?

TH: It’s really, really similar.  I wanted to create an exhibition that wasn’t tied to a train track.  I wanted something that could go anywhere in the city.

NC: Why Wicker Park opposed to other Chicago neighborhoods?

TH: It’s the right mixture of accessibility to public transit and ‘destination’ status.

NC: FUZE is your sponsor. How did that come into play?

TH: I try to only work with services or brands I use. This year I approached, Carhartt, Mac, Colgate, Absolute Vodka, Dick Blick, to name a few.  Fuze was a college favorite so when I got an opportunity to speak with them, I pitched my idea.  Susan Blackman was responsible for making the introduction to Fuze.

NC: How has it been finding other community sponsors and support?

TH: Interesting—It’s funny who comes out of the woodwork to support the arts.

NC: Do you have plans to take Build to other places in the future? Expand on participation?

TH: No plans for the future yet.

NC: If you could take this project anywhere you wanted where would that place be?

TH: L.A.

NC: If you had all the funding in the world what would you do different? Or not—Maybe it is perfect already.

TH: I’d construct a permanent city, year round arts programming, and philanthropy.

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