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EXPO Chicago opens to the public today. As fairgoers weave their way between the booths they may notice a few special installations scattered throughout Festival Hall at the Navy Pier. Those site-specific installations are part of IN/SITU, titled “Levity/Gravity,” and include work by Diana Al-Hadid, Kevin Appel, Sanford Biggers, Jose Dávila, Dan Gunn, Karl Haendel, Glenn Kaino, Andreas Lolis, Michael Rakowitz, Shinique Smith and Alec Soth.
The day before the opening, we spoke with IN/SITU’s curator, Shamim Momin, the director, curator, and co-founder of Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). She told us about the importance of showcasing art outside the booth at fairs and how the Navy Pier inspired “Levity/Gravity.”
WHITEWALL: Why do you think it’s important for fairs like EXPO Chicago to showcase work outside the booth, like the installations and site-specific works and performances you’ve curated for IN/SITU?
SHAMIM MOMIN: Well, I like to think that the folks who run the fairs—as I know from this experience Tony Karman does—understand that it’s important for their buyers to also be audiences for art—that is, to think about how it exists beyond merely an object they can own. Of course, there are many ways to encourage intelligent thinking about collecting and these kinds of projects are just one of those, but I think the essential commitment to a curatorial vision, that’s not necessarily a commercial one in it’s foreground, emphasizes the important reciprocal respect different parts of the art world need to have for one another.
WW: How did you arrive upon “Levity/Gravity” as a focus for IN/SITU?
SM: On my first visit to Chicago’s Navy Pier to consider ideas for IN/SITU, I had the fortunate experience of seeing the space entirely empty, an unusual situation for such a coveted event site. While the monumental scale of the industrial, barrel-vaulted room and attendant periphery is an impressive envelope to any event within, it was particularly striking to have that architecture as the main visual presence in my recollections of the Pier, and in part inspired the selections and thematics of the IN/SITU group. Entitled “Levity/Gravity,” this group of work overall deals with different aspects of these titular words from multiple vantages – lightness against heaviness, mutability contrasting steadfastness, irreverence and seriousness, a lack of mooring or ease of movement versus the irrefutable force that binds us to the earth.
WW: How did you select the participating artists? Was there a prompt that you gave to any of the artists involved?
SM: We spent a lot of time giving the artists some sense of the site, through pictures, conversations and other descriptive means, wherever possible — that’s critical when asking for new or site-specific modifications to works. Once the artist came up with an idea based on my thoughts on the space, we worked out the best case in the same way as with any LAND project — concept, goal, logistics, limitations, budgets, resolution, final project…
WW: Is there anything from your work at LAND, or any artists that you’ve worked with since founding LAND, that you brought to “Levity/Gravity”?
SM: I’ve worked with almost all of the artists in the project in some capacity, pre-LAND or since, and the approach coincides with all of my practice—commissioned projects in most cases that consider the site and context of the exhibition, or works that activate aspects of the experience not always recognized, or ways in which to change a viewer’s movement or accustomed way of seeing…
WW: While in Chicago for the fair is there anything you’re looking forward to most?
SM: I’m here now! Had a great day installing with the wonderful EXPO team and artists participating in the project. I have to give extra props to the engineers who patiently sat through the specifics of how Karl Haendel’s vinyl project — the most architecturally involved and labor intensive — needed to be handled to make it just so — and then did it beautifully (read: stayed really late to do what they do better than we could know how, with good humor and kindness throughout). Thanks guys. Also their cherry picker fills me with envy, especially since I wasn’t allowed on it.
I love Chicago, for so many reasons. All I know is I want to be sure LAND does an ongoing public project with the city sometime in the near future — this is surely my kind of town.