Making Progress

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Exterior of Progress Bar and internal space (white strip to be covered in 15,000 light bulbs, motion sensors, and tons of LEDs)

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A week later in Chicago, CLOUD CEILING is beginning to take shape. This project is completely new for us – we’ve never created a permanent interactive installation in a bar-space. Hell, we’ve never created a permanent installation anywhere (probably very few artists ever do…) The intention of permanency has presented many variables: how can an interactive work last for 5-10 years? How can we use modern technologies to increase both the longevity and interactivity of the CLOUD? Can we successfully incorporate this installation into the day-to-day necessities of a working bar? How do we, as artists, maintain creative integrity while building a commercial artwork?

CLOUD CEILING is our first large-scale commercial project, our first American installation, and our first project working with motion sensors and LEDs. This comes with its own set of learning curves and curiosities, as you can imagine, but it also presents a number of possibilities. I’ve noticed a tendency for artists to shy away from discussing commercial work – as if it somehow demeans the poignancy of their non-commercial art. This impulse is fascinating – why should there be a divide? Is it necessary to uphold a clear separation between experimentation and polished works? Is commercial art perpetuating negative art-consumerism? Or do artists simply feel that discretion is more tactful when working with a client?

As artists who work in unexpected spaces and self-initiated venues on a regular basis, the challenge of commercial work is a fascinating adventure, presenting constant discoveries, evolutions, and epiphanies. Because previous CLOUDs have been non-commercial and contextualized amongst other fine-artworks, we even discussed the potential of not including CLOUD CEILING as part of this blog (primarily due to its commercial nature) but after a short conversation, Wayne and I realized that discluding CLOUD CEILING would be a fallacy.

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This project marks an evolution in our joint practice, both in terms of technology and scale. The “aliveness” of working in the context of a bar – particularly Progress Bar – as a recreational space grants the installation more potential for meaning, social experimentation, and interactivity than most white cube galleries. Both offer brilliant possibilities, but we view this installation as an opportunity to further explore the interactive channels of CLOUD, while orienting the installation in an entirely different semi-public space.

Anyway, CLOUD CEILING isn’t a final resting place for any of these ideas (none of our project will be!) but Progress Bar offers an excellent venue for progression (as it were…) And so it begins again!

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But I’m ahead of myself already. Back in time for just a moment: it all began when David Sikora, the owner of Progress Bar, invited us to create a ceiling installation almost seven months ago – immediately after he saw the first edition of CLOUD from Nuit Blanche Calgary. At that time, Progress Bar was a hypothetical project nipping tightly at the heals of Cocktail (the 17-year resident bar in that space). Is the present, Progress Bar is mere weeks away from Opening as the newest – and shiniest! – bar & night club in the heart of Boystown, Chicago.

Of course, there is a certainly irony in the fact that we’ve skipped from Russia (which recently banned “western gay propaganda”) to Boystown (the “epicenter of Chicago’s LGBT Community”). That’s what Progress is all about, right? But here we are in Chicago, home of Wayne’s cousin Garrett McGinn (the bass-player in rad Chicago Hip-Hop/Soul/Jazz band Sidewalk Chalk) and The Bean! (one of our favourite examples of ultra-successful public art in the entire world). We’re rooming with the former, and hanging out near the latter, hoping that the shininess of our favourite sculpture will eventually impart some sacred understanding of art-making into the marrows of our souls.

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“Cloudgate,” a public sculpture by Anish Kapoor (often affectionately referred to as “The Bean”)

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The streets of Chicago between Boystown and Pilsen

Regular readers are familiar with the process of CLOUD-making by now: planning and drawing, following by a site-visitation, the gathering of materials, work-shopping, welding, gluing, bulbing, stretching, and repeating. CLOUD CEILING is different in that it is a monumental undertaking (over twice as big as any previous CLOUD) and the interactivity of the sculpture is limited to non-physical means (pull-strings wouldn’t last a single weekend in a bar). Instead, CLOUD CEILING will use motion-sensors and over 15,000 light bulbs.

But more about how CLOUD CEILING works in later blogs. In the meantime, we’re getting back to it. Stay tuned in the days to come!

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Progress!

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