IU Northwest professor helps curate the Chicago Architecture Biennial
IU Northwest professor helps curate the Chicago Architecture Biennial
Tuesday, November 14, 2023
How Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, co-director of arts collective Floating Museum and IU Northwest professor, helped put on an international event
CHICAGO — From the Loop to North Lawndale, Near North to South Chicago, other neighborhoods in the city and even beyond, you will see art installations of the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB 5).
The fifth edition of the event opened to the public on Nov. 1, 2023, and will run until February 11, 2024. Work from 86 participants from 10 countries will be displayed at 14 city sites — The Joffrey Ballet, James R. Thompson Center, Chicago Cultural Center and more.
Helping curate the event and its dozens of installations is Indiana University Northwest School of the Arts Assistant Professor Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, one of four co-directors of the Chicago-based arts collective, Floating Museum.
Hulsebos-Spofford, along with his team, began work on CAB 5 more than a year ago. Between the six months of research, meeting with city officials, coordinating with artists from around the globe and more, Floating Museum’s rendition of the event, titled “This is a Rehearsal,” is now available for all to see.
“I think the title, we were hoping would challenge the idea that we have a manifesto totally figured out,” Hulsebos-Spofford said. “… There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but we also have huge problems. We’re interested in finding solutions through practice, conversations. Just thinking about the format of getting to a final performance.”
Professor, artist and co-director
Hulsebos-Spofford came to IU Northwest from the Art Institute of Chicago five years ago. Living on the South Side of the city, he spends several days a week on the Northwest Indiana campus while balancing his duties as an artist and co-director.
“There’s a culture at IUN of building programs,” Hulsebos-Spofford said. “The flexibility and the support, too, to implement these projects around new technology and building up the School of the Arts.”
As art continuously evolves, Hulsebos-Spofford likes to keep his finger on the pulse of new ideas. Through teaching, he keeps up with current trends and utilizes new ideas not only in his art but in that of his students through 3D printing, robot arms, laser cutting and more.
On top of teaching, Hulsebos-Spofford is one of four co-directors — joined by Avery R Young, Andrew Schachman and Faheem Majeed — of Floating Museum, an arts collective exploring the relationship between art, community, architecture and public spaces.
While some may think of art as something that lives solely in galleries, Floating Museum breaks that mold.
From converting an old barge into a museum on the Chicago River to a project viewed only on the city’s Green Line train to its inflatable sculptures — the first of which was funded by a Presidential Arts Grant through Indiana University and has been featured prominently in various publications — Floating Museum has created unique, thought-provoking and practical installations across the city.
It also works with communities and leaders, figuring out their wants and needs and how it can help.
“A bunch of our projects have been wrestling with that question or idea of how could the city be a museum?” Hulsebos-Spofford said. “Through collaborations — we work with big institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago, small cultural institutions, park districts and individual artists — we make these projects by putting all these people in a metaphorical room together.”
IU Northwest and Chicago's robust art scene
Being less than an hour drive from one of the country’s most vibrant art scenes gives IU Northwest’s art students a distinct advantage, as senior studio fine arts major Kaitlin Nichols discovered firsthand.
When the Calumet City native transferred to the Northwest campus in search of her bachelor’s degree, she knew she had to get involved. After discussing her future with her mother and feeling uncertain about her post-college plans, Nichols turned to Hulsebos-Spofford.
“I just came to him, vented, let him know how lost I felt, confused and where I felt like I needed some guidance,” Nichols said. “He was like, ‘I have a team, you can be my intern over the summer to see if you like it.’
“I said, ‘I would love that!’ After that, it was history. I’ve been working with him ever since.”
Through Floating Museum, Nichols has installed inflatable sculptures, worked as a studio assistant and seen all the work that goes into planning the Chicago Architecture Biennial, among other things.
“This is a big, stressful project, the biennial. It’s been really interesting for Kaitlin to see getting outside of the classroom into the pragmatics, the grind of how you get things done and how you problem solve when stuff pops up,” Hulsebos-Spofford said.
Nichols gravitated to IU Northwest because of all it has to offer its fine arts students. In school, she’s been able to sharpen her skills as an artist, stagehand and more.
While working with Floating Museum has been beneficial in her artwork, it’s also created a clearer vision for Nichols by showing her there’s a career in art.
“I love it,” Nichols said. “I get to meet so many different artists and have experiences and help them collaborate to make their pieces is an opportunity that I feel like I’d never have been able to have.”
Nichols is one example of the opportunity art students have at IU Northwest. The proximity to Chicago is a strength, and Hulsebos-Spofford hopes to take even more advantage by connecting students with the city, getting their foot in the door and leading to future employment.
“Art degrees, I see them as very practical,” Hulsebos-Spofford said. “A BFA degree can be a real pathway. You can plug into so many industries and develop a really valuable thinking skill set with an art degree. I think students getting plugged into both Northwest Indiana’s art community and also the creative industry in Chicago is gigantic.”
Since the biennial began in 2015, more than 1.8 million visitors have seen projects from more than 400 architects, designers and artists from dozens of countries.
This year is the first time an arts collective is leading the curatorial team. With all of Floating Museum’s co-directors based out of Chicago and their focus on the intersection of art and design, they were the perfect fit.
“When we were invited to curate the biennial, we were really excited because we’re a small collective and a small non-profit in the city and the biennial is a nice international platform,” Hulsebos-Spofford said. “It was the perfect moment to think about trying to tackle a city-wide project.”
Compared to other biennials that have been around for centuries — like Venice’s La Biennale di Venezia, which is now in its 128th year — Chicago’s biennial is in its infancy. Because of that, Floating Museum decided to take a different approach to CAB 5. Instead of just picking content, the curatorial team has let the conversations with the contributors drive the projects across the city.
Floating Museum isn’t just dropping in, curating the biennial and leaving, either. No, its co-directors live and work in and around Chicago. Once the biennial is over, they’ll stay. And they anticipate some of the bigger projects staying behind to get finished with them.
“I think we were really excited to think of a biennial, which usually presents that final performance or that final exhibition, to maybe not be that,” Hulsebos-Spofford said. “To say, this is actually the opening of a conversation. You know, and what can we learn to rehearse and do it the next time?”
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