A Chicago organization transformed Couch Place Alley located between Randolph Street and Lake Street in the Chicago Loop into a pop-up party with interactive art and installations Aug. 24.
The transformation was a part of Activate, an initiative of the Chicago Loop Alliance, a group dedicated to managing and promoting urban experiences meant to attract people and investments to the Loop.
Activate has transformed alleys into urban pop-up experiences for four years, but this year was the first time the focus was on the venue itself.
“We wanted to have people think differently about public spaces or the often-overlooked spaces that could serve multiple innovative uses in public life,” Pacemaking and Creative Manager Kate Keleman said.
Each Activate event followed a theme this summer. Couch Place Alley transformed into an informal recreation space for people to play, a wasteland meant to highlight stories of trash and most recently served as the electrical and communications hub of the city. When painter and fashion designer Ursula Andreef applied for the curator position for Activate 2017, she had already written project proposals for each of the initiative’s four summer events. The alley lit up for the third event.
The crowded alley, interactive installations and games, colorful personalities and eclectic performances seemed to be the perfect recipe for a unique experience.
“I wanted to make this as interactive as possible because I don’t like the dichotomy that exists in shows between artist and audience,” Andreeff said. “I want art to be part of people’s lives and that’s why I think public art can engage so many types of people in a unique way.”
Keleman called the alley a quasi-private space where people can shed their public identity and behave in a way that you can’t always on a street. A portal marked the entrance to the alley. Keleman said the portal put the alley into play with the streetscape and gave people a stronger sense of place and arrival, while the theme brought the community together.
“Most cities have telephone poles and telephone wires and electrical wires above ground, but we don’t have that visual pollution because they’re all in alleys,” Andreeff said. “When I responded to the theme I talked about electricity and the idea of the electrical grid being in the alleys.”
Each of the artists Andreeff and Keleman invited to participate worked with light in some way. Lino Fernandez’s kinetic paintings transformed with each flicker of a colored light bulb, Eric Wolinksy’s virtual bike ride toured an electrical flower garden and Andreeff’s paintings used light-reflective paint. In addition to activities such as life-size jenga, alley-goers enjoyed cocktails and live music and performances. At times, they could even participate in a performance.
Loop resident and Activate regular Lee Mickus said Thursday’s event was a entertaining urban experience.
“It’s a great place to mix with people from all kinds of backgrounds, from people coming after work, to younger millennials, kids and people who live around here,” Mickus said.
Ayden Rivera was one of many to don virtual reality glasses covered in flowers and ride a pink stationary bicycle through the interactive exhibit FlowerSpace, the electrical flower garden. In Wolinsky’s creation, flowers seen through the glasses and neon lights on the wall behind the bike pulsated in time to the pedaling. Rivera said he was initially put off by the floral decorations.
“Once I learned it had to do with tech stuff, I thought it was pretty cool,” Rivera said.
Other technology-based installations included Harold Washington Public Library Maker Lab classes on designing 3D printing glow-in-the-dark creatures and interactive microscopy demonstrations called “microsafaris.”
Crowds danced to the music of electronic-pop artist Dorian Electra, Latin folk fusion ensemble Son Monarcas and DJ Cid Ikarus and parted now and then for surprise performances such as Conch Shell, who rode a bicycle up and down the alley while playing guitar and blowing into a conch shell.
Keleman said the entire experience, from first stepping into the alley to posing in a live fashion photo shoot, is all about bringing the community together to demark a public space.
“This place exists. It’s alive and it’s activated,” Keleman said.
The last installment will be in September. You can find more information on it here.