TERRA FIRMA: EXPO Chicago 2018


a collaborative installation by Eric J. Garcia & Frances Lightbound

The leadership at Hyde Park Art Center remains in constant dialogue about how to best serve various communities and audiences: the neighborhood surrounding the Art Center’s building; the local and visiting artists that exhibit in the Art Center’s galleries; the in-house youth board that creates powerful communication, projects, and so many happenings; the various artists-in-residence who open their studio doors and welcome public conversation; and, so obviously, the students and families that spend time in the building consistently for classes and camp. Clearly, the Art Center can feel like many different places to many individuals. Some people consider the Center as a place for study, while others think of it solely as a place for new art. Extremely important, for the teens who spend time in the building’s galleries and halls, it’s a trusted space to be themselves.

Eric J. Garcia and Frances Lightbound are two artists and recent alumni of the Art Center’s Jackman Goldwasser Residency and the Center Program, respectively. Each of these flagship programs facilitates intense rigor and discourse around what it means to make art now, and how artists can be strategic and empathetic to themselves and others while doing so. Art and the practice of being an artist requires reflection and interrogation. Garcia and Lightbound both consciously ask questions of the world through their work, requiring the viewer to be present in unpacking symbolism to emerge

“Creative Citizen” has emerged as a term to understand this practice of deepening our understanding of social issues through the arts, and the arts-based mobilizing that enriches consciousness into action. There is a responsibility to work to dismantle inequities within our field and the communities we serve, and a capability to develop a socially resilient city that’s ready for positive change. Artists are uniquely positioned to frame these conversations that provoke reflection around the most pressing and critical challenges to humanity.

Thus, in Terra Firma, Garcia and Lightbound have collaboratively turned their discerning eyes to one of the moment’s most visible topics: immigration. It is commonly known that scholar John Berger so aptly mused on the act of looking (which at an Art Fair is the main form of viewing):  “We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach--though not necessarily within arm's reach.”

Terra Firma questions the too-common response that it is easier to look away from contested sites than to help; simpler to think of acts of violence as absent from our lives if they have not directly impacted our own bodies.

Garcia and Lightbound, however, practice seeking to expose. None of us are ever too far removed and are all implicated in our nation’s violence--unless actively working against it. Garcia carves sharp eyes in white chalk on black paint to directly meet the visitors gaze. They belong to a cast of real people and allegories: PFC Miguel Perez, deported after two tours in Afghanistan for being an “illegal immigrant;” Nurse Razan Al-Nahar killed by an Israeli sniper while administering medical aid; a Fat Cat delirious with greed; an onlooking mother whose body has become a background; and the fallen, forlorn statue of Liberty continuing to request an urgent help. Lightbound, in her part, uses the vernacular of everyday building materials to intersect with this mural. Milled into vinyl office tile, lies the unifying cry of Hyde Park Art Center’s Booth #176. This is a definition taken from the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1906):

“LAND, n. – A part of the earth’s surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, its means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B and C, there will be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.

by Ariel Gentalen

Residency & Public Programs Manager