Every few days since early July a new batch of black-and-white portraits has appeared in the east windows of the warehouse at 4642-44 N. Western. They now stretch across the building's top three stories, easily visible from the adjacent Brown Line platform. Some of the subjects are smiling, some are serious; some are in military garb, some wear civvies. All 648 of them are U.S. soldiers who've been killed since the occupation of Iraq.
Created by Carrie Iverson, studio manager for the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, which occupies the first floor and basement of the otherwise empty building, the Facade Project is the CPC's first foray into public art and politics. This Saturday's Collaborative Voter Project--a free event that'll include a registration drive, speakers from various political campaigns, DIY screen printing, live music, film screenings, puppet shows for both kids and adults, and a dance party--is the second.
CPC director Deborah Lader says the impulse to get active had been building for months, sparked by what members saw as threats to civil liberties by the Bush administration. Lader, who founded the group in 1989, is an old hand at bringing artists together, but organizing a political event and getting local lawmakers involved was a challenge.
Still, she says, printmaking has a long history as "the democratic art," a classic method of disseminating information in turbulent times. "We're printmakers; we're part of this tradition. It feels good to do, because very often we forget that and we become so involved in our own little ideas, and we're sitting there making our little art pieces. That's still valid, but it's interesting to see how we can open up again and see how we're affecting the public."
Lader acknowledges that a pro-peace, anti-Bush attitude will likely prevail at the event, but she's been promoting it as a nonpartisan affair aimed mainly at turning independent-minded artists into independent-minded voters. She says she'd welcome dissenting views in order to open up a dialogue on the issues.
Iverson tried for a similarly balanced approach in developing the Facade Project. Raised in rural Virginia, she remembers many high school classmates who joined the military and served in the first gulf war. She wanted to create a tribute that showed individuals, not merely abstractions, with faces that might remind the viewer of people from their own lives.
Iverson printed the photos from the Web, drawing from news sources where families had given permission for their use, then scanned them, blew them up to fit 81/2-by-11 pieces of paper, and reprinted them using a laser printer. The building's landlord allowed her to put the pictures in the upstairs windows, which look in on empty concrete rooms formerly used for cold storage. As the translucent portraits went up, the light in the rooms dimmed, giving them a somber, chapel-like feel; during Saturday's event visitors will be able to enter the building to get a closer view of the pictures and light candles in tribute.
The idea is to leave the faces up for as long as the U.S. military is in Iraq. "That probably will mean the images will fade somewhat, and being paper, that they'll also disintegrate somewhat," she says. "That's part of the piece."
The Collaborative Voter Project takes place Saturday, August 14, from 3 to 11 PM. The upper floors of the building are open every Saturday from noon to 5. Call 773-293-2070 or see www.chicagoprintmakers.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Robert Drea.