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Pay It Forward>>Terrain

Pay It Forward is a collaborative, experimental fundraiser devised by Autotelic {Studios} and Sixty Inches From Center. We are experimenting with the idea of paying it forward to other arts organizations who work to support artists and a thriving arts community in Chicago. Our Pay It Forward Series will highlight one of the eight projects that we have chosen to be part of our fundraiser each week, leading up to our Pay It Forward Fundraising Party + Housewarming on November 23rd, 7 PM at (our new fundraiser location!) FLATS Studio at 1050 W Wilson Ave.

This week we interviewed Sabrina Ott at Terrain, an artist-run exhibition space based in Oak Park. The first thing you notice about Terrain pops up before you’ve even walked in the front door–the “gallery,”  so to speak, sits right on the front lawn. Neighbors, visitors, and the students of Longfellow Elementary across the street can all take in contemporary art, which just this year has included Gunatowski’s windsocks, which take the form of surreal, almost Seussian clothing items; massive windchimes by Stephen Lieto, and Edra Soto’s Graft, which drew on Chicago’s rich architectural history. The end result is a yard that challenges such dichotomies as private vs. public space and decoration vs. function.

Sixty Inches From Center: How did you start?

Sabrina Ott: I moved to Chicago 6 years ago and wanted to actively engage in the artistic community here. I also wanted to bring something very different to the neighborhood in which I live. I started Terrain in 2011. I got the idea for a front yard project space while hanging out with my students at Michelle Grabner’s and Brad Killiam’s Poor Farm, a Kunsthalle in rural Wisconsin. The Poor Farm Experiment, as it’s called, invites artists to do outdoor projects every August, among other events. I was invited to participate in 2010 and made a portable pond with a working waterfall out of Styrofoam and glitter that was both a sculpture, a seating area, and a classic garden water element. Making that piece led my work in a new direction, and my new work has similarities with Terrain in that each piece is a hybrid of functional objects and art genres. I thought that I could offer a similar opportunity for expansion to others and became excited about inviting artists to produce outdoor projects that engaged the site of my front yard.

SIFC: What’s your mission?

SO: Terrain is dedicated to featuring interventions into the conventional landscape of a front yard by emerging as well as established artists who have been invited to create a site – specific work. We want to foster a spirit of generosity and encourage artists to take aspects of yard art or of their experiences in the country, city or suburbs, and to make that the subject – to invert something that’s usually found in a yard and transform it into something unfamiliar. We want to create new experiences for our viewership and offer our neighborhood daily exposure to great art.

Robert Gero’s piece commemorating the space’s biennial anniversary. (Image courtesy of Terrain)

SIFC: What makes your project unique?

SO: Terrain differs from many other alternative art platforms in that the artworks are accessible and visible 24 hours a day, year round. We also have multiple audiences- artists, curators, neighbors, children and accidental participants and participate in conventions of the art world as well as those belonging to a neighborhood- for instance we are hosting a biennial for which the opening is a block party.

SIFC: What is the one thing that you want people to know about your organization?

SO: Terrain aims to provide opportunities to artists to be astonishing and to provide astonishment to our viewers and neighbors on a daily basis.

SIFC: What are your goals, what’s coming up?

SO: Our goals are to expand both the audience of an artwork and the function of a suburban front yard, and to generously offer new experiences to artists and viewers.

Our upcoming exhibit is Leslie Baum’s Heart on My Sleeve, from November 3 to November 30. We’re holding an opening brunch on Sunday, November 3, from 1 to 4pm. Here’s our official description of the show: “You know you are guilty. You shot a furtive glance, a surreptitious gaze into your neighbor’s window. Did you catch a glimpse of the kitchen table, a man wearing pajamas, the television glowing in the corner, or maybe, just maybe, a painting hanging above the sofa? It’s time to come out of the shadows and stare openly in the bright light of day. The Heart on My Sleeve project is an invitation to do just that. It offers a typically private experience, the viewing of a painting made expressly for a home, to the public. Heart on My Sleeve is an outsized welcome mat that beckons each passerby to look and to linger.”

SIFC: How does the concept of paying it forward apply to what you do and your relationship to the Chicago arts community?

SO: Terrain offers the experience of discovery and surprise to the community. Located directly across from Longfellow Elementary School, neighbors, school children, teachers and their parents are exposed to challenging contemporary art and themes circulating in the Chicago arts community. Sabina’s door is always open – join the feast prepared for the opening receptions or stop by for a hot cup of tea. The hospitality of the Terrain house, in conjunction with the exhibited artwork, allows neighbors to take further pride in their neighborhood and the relationships within.

SIFC: Why did you agree to be part of this fundraiser with Sixty and Autotelic?

SO: I admire the spirit of both Sixty and Autotellic and want to be part of their mission as well!

To find out more about Terrain, visit  To donate to the Sixty & Autotelic {Studios} Pay It Forward fundraiser, CLICK HERE.

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