Art space challenges local creativity

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Fred Koschmann

One space. 2,000 square feet, rooms branching in various directions, walls white as a blank canvas – the challenge is how best to fill it, and for once, the task is being left to us all.

Champaign-Urbana has been issued an open invitation to continually reinvent the space at 12 E. Washington St., Champaign. The space is owned by OPENSOURCE Art, an artists’ collective with the goal of igniting the artistic spirit of the town, and it is they who issue the challenge.

Since its dawning in the fall of 2004, OPENSOURCE has been brainstorming wildly as to how best utilize their space. The founding members, Champaign residents David Prinsen, Jennifer Danos and Jeremy Beaudry, quickly defined themselves as a group, set their goals and moved from there.

“We’re organized, disciplined and ambitious as all hell,” said Matt Hart, assistant professor in LAS and a current co-director at OPENSOURCE. “We’re also democratic, volunteer-run and you only need to turn up to our 3 p.m. Friday meetings to pitch an idea or be assigned a job.”

While some University students and faculty members are involved with OPENSOURCE, the group is dedicated to the greater local community and has even attracted artists from around the globe to participate.

One such event that has spawned enthusiasm from around the world is soon to open. On April 30th, OPENSOURCE will debut their highly anticipated exhibition, “Skinless Capital: Neoliberalism and Resistance,” which engages people with current political ideas and cultural phenomena.

“Skinless Capital will transform OPENSOURCE Art’s downtown Champaign gallery into an image-saturated space that conveys the scope, penetration and limits of neoliberal economics and governmentality,” stated the project announcement issued by the group.

During the weekend of April 15th and 16th, OPENSOURCE displayed their local interests with creative flare by linking up with the Boneyard Arts Festival, the annual celebration of spring, the arts and the greater Champaign-Urbana community.

OPENSOURCE’s contribution included performance art by University dance student Jessica Ray and the chance to see original artwork by some OPENSOURCE members, including the accomplished paintings of S.J. Hart, Matt Hart’s wife.

Richard Wilson, a practicing artist of 50 years, showcased his work as well along with Danville Area Community College students in an effort to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.

The effect of prescribed drugs on the mind is a recurring theme in Wilson’s sketches and photography. For years, he has been undergoing medical treatment for HIV, and art has been his constant outlet, a much-needed means of expression.

“It’s all a journey,” he states, as he motions towards his work as a whole. “Things fall in place as they go along, and you find that the latest and the greatest is meaningless – it could have happened 25 years ago.”

Wilson was raised a Buddhist, and his conviction of the transitory nature of life lends well to the art world – a realm that engages exhaustively with work that is meant to last – as both Buddhism and art often orient themselves by longevity.

The concept of OPENSOURCE Art seems to subvert this notion: art is meant to last, yet they are constantly reorganizing, taking down almost as quickly as they are putting up – like the Tibetan sand mosaics that are meticulously created, only to be scattered in the wind.

Much of Wilson’s work provides an instant sense of the experience being described. For example, he has created a series of nine blurred photographs with a keen eye for light, color and focus. Though one wouldn’t guess at first glance, the pictures are of stacks of medications being readied for patients. The point, according to Wilson, is to get a sense of what it often feels like being perpetually medicated – and as one can observe in the photos, that feeling is, in a word, detached.

The show preceding the Boneyard Arts Festival was called “OVER[site],” a project that spilled over from a University issues and methods art class taught by Meredith Warner, a third-year graduate student in the art department and co-director of OPENSOURCE. Students in the class were required to use gleaned material to portray specific places in town.

“The hope is to find new modes to enter into work,” said Warner. “And it’s about knowing the place in which you live.”

Her students transformed 12 E. Washington St. into a space that frequently requires someone to walk over or through the artwork. Three-dimensional art projects that manipulate how space is conceived are common at OPENSOURCE.

One student trailed abandoned library cards from the old ACES library across the floor and up the walls, luring the observer in the intended direction. Another risked having their tinfoil creations being stomped on the floor, as the pieces congregated in and towards corners of the room.

“You build off of everyone’s ideas,” said Elizabeth Bjornseth, a senior in business. “It’s not competitive; it’s more of a community.”

Bjornseth’s comment is a sentiment about her art class, but it could double as a description of Warner and the other director’s mentality at OPENSOURCE.

Ultimately, some of the bigger-scaled projects will be dismantled, never to be seen again, but much of the artwork that comes through the building of OPENSOURCE Art will simply be relocated, hopefully to someday find a wider audience.

And therein lies the importance of this art space: its blank walls and rapidly reforming exhibits incite the artist to create, no matter what needs to be created. One is free to express what they will, to hold it against a different light for others to relate to or learn from. At OPENSOURCE, the relationship between artist and observer is continually renewed.