This review is part of our Sixty Regional project which partners with artists, writers, and artist-run spaces to highlight art happening throughout the Midwest and Illinois.
A stray cat leaps through untamed grass after a cricket, a well-loved teddy bear rests against a tree, and a sign marking the historic neighborhood of Enos Park bears the marks of that history gone by. Though observed on the opening night of the 2017 Terrain Biennial, these are not details of the artworks spread throughout Springfield’s north side, but a collection of ordinary moments that exist here every night, with or without an audience.
It is well-practiced disregard for such details that lead me to nearly miss a puddle of water, littered with debris, reflecting the tree branches that hover above. Only a closer look reveals the pool is not actually water, but resin, and the branches are not a reflection, but a painted image. By demanding a second look at a seemingly ordinary circumstance, Jeffrey Michael Austin’s “spill” piece is emblematic of the experience of travelling through the Terrain Biennial. The Enos Park outpost, organized by DEMO Project’s Allison Lacher and Jeff Robinson, is one of many featured in the international exhibition, where, for six weeks, residents’ yards, porches, and balconies are host to installations.
Just across the street, another yard is transformed, this one by the collaborative team of Amanda Bowles and Jesse Vogler. Two sculptures suspended by steel frames stand pillar-like on either side of the home’s walkway. Chain link, snow fence, and mini-blinds are layered with neon painted aluminum screen to create a collapsed, hazy atmosphere. Backlit by the afternoon sun, the works emulate a wavering focus between sunspots and settling dust—a view that could perhaps be seen by looking out from the windows of the home that sits just behind.
Underscoring the reciprocal relationship between art and site is the accompanying neighborhood map, where the artists’ names are listed beside those of local property owners. Among the 17 marked sites scattered between N Grand Ave and Miller St is a display of lawn ornaments and toys, reorganized into absurd assemblages. While Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades repurpose plastic materials to explore how we use ornamentation to express ownership, on another block, the natural is reclaiming its own property. In an abandoned home’s overgrown yard, an oversized dandelion, fabricated by artist Betsey Dollar, towers over an audience that may otherwise pass without notice.
Even with the sun lowering, I choose to explore the neighborhood on foot, meaning much of my time is spent travelling from point A to point B (literally, according the site map that guides me). While normally a practice as mundane as a daily commute, I feel compelled to observe more closely every home I pass. As I near a corner, the outstretched glow of a bright porch light brings anticipation. There is no sign marking this as the site of an artwork, but what am I missing if I don’t stop to look?
My legs are growing tired when I reach 1161 North 3rd Street, fixed at the far corner of the map, where artist Heather Brammeier has utilized found materials to transform the façade of an abandoned home into a playground-like installation. Wooden triangles and repurposed ladders are arranged into jungle gym structures on the lawn. A colorful ladder fashioned from garden hose climbs past the boarded up second-story to reach through a darkened attic window. Across the street, an abandoned couch sits on the curb, facing the work. It’s inadvertent, but in this moment, no longer irrelevant. It’s an invitation of sorts. A call to rest the body from its passage to somewhere else, and let the mind wander up, into the veil of the newly unfamiliar.
Featured Image: Jeffrey Austin, Puddles (Trees), resin, found objects, paint, and digital print, 2017. Photo courtesy of DEMO Projects.
Maggie Morton is an artist, writer, and poet, who earned her BFA in Painting from Illinois State University in 2016. Morton currently lives and works in Normal, IL, where she is the Director and Editor of Sight Specific, an online platform that documents and supports contemporary art programming in the Central Illinois area.