aroundcenter by Jan Tichy at the Chicago Cultural Center

Known for bringing attention to forgotten spaces and overlooked wonders, artist and School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum Jan Tichy has taken up the task of re-introducing the CCC to Chicagoans. His aroundcenter exhibition, which runs through April 27, is his take on this great building through various installations and thoughtful collaborations. Rather than focusing on a single gallery, Tichy takes visitors all around the building, leading them to rediscover the wonderful architectural details of the CCC.

 History of Painting (2014), a 9,261-slide installation on the top floor, is undeniably impactful yet blends in harmoniously with the rest of the CCC’s architecture. Those slides, originally from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, were disposed of when the institution’s collection was digitalized. The school offered its students the opportunity to acquire some of the three million slides, but curiously, very few people were interested in the giveaway. Tichy decided to keep the slides of paintings — about 50,000 slides. He sorted them by color and arranged them in strips of red, blue, yellow, brown, black, green, magenta and orange. As daylight shines through the window, the thousands of miniature photographs are reflected on the floor.

One of Jan Tichy works, located in the north stairwell leading to the Civil War memorial, could easily go unnoticed. A projection casts the names, dates and times of death of the victims of Chicago street violence over the past seven years. The slides change according to a random rhythm generated by a computer. The sound of the changing slides is reminiscent of the sound of a handgun being cocked. People walk through the stairs like they might through a war, without stopping, without looking.

The installation Changing Chicago 2014, located in the “Chicago Rooms,” is a visual response from high school students to Tichy’s Changing Chicago (2012), which was inspired from a series of photographs of the same name taken between 1986 and 1987. For aroundcenter, Tichy also collaborated with SAIC students from the Masters of Arts in Arts Administration and Policy program. The nine graduate students taking part in the project were involved in developing the public programs associated with the exhibit.

The programming surrounding the exhibition is impressively rich: film screenings, kaleidoscope and camera obscura building workshops, flashlight tours led by Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson and poetry writing for young people. Most of the workshops developed by the SAIC graduate students were inspired by Tichy’s work with light on structure and the show’s emphasis on the feeling of getting lost around the CCC. The kaleidoscope and camera obscura workshops for instance, are opportunities for visitors to experiment with lenses and mirrors to get a better understanding of the artist’s process as well as discover the CCC through a new light and new angles.

Besides explorations of light and generous collaborations, Tichy has a strong interest for archives and how to present them to the public. A number of pieces he dug up from the CCC basement are on display in aroundcenter.

On the first floor, adjacent to the free library where people are invited to take books home, Tichy has also presented a series of found catalogs of exhibitions that have taken place over the years at the CCC. Chicago Nature, a light installation situated in the front window on the north entrance, takes its inspiration from Bruce Nauman’s Human Nature/Life Death (1983). Nauman’s piece was placed at the very same spot where Chicago Nature stands today.

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