on campus. Art lecture in UC McConomy

Contemporary Artist Lori Palmer spoke in McConomy Auditorium last Thursday as part of the School of Art?s lecture series. Palmer is known for being active in her community by raising awareness about the issues of public space and by inviting ordinary citizens to collaborate in her work. Palmer incorporates political activism into her art, particularly the idea of utilizing one?s environment for the common good. She often joins forces with people who feel strongly about their surroundings and envision improvements in their communities.
Palmer received her BA in 1981 from Williams College and her MFA in 1988 from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, to which she later returned to serve as an associate professor in sculpture. Furthermore, she has taught sculpture, contemporary theory, and art writing at Carnegie Mellon; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Illinois in Chicago; and the University of Chicago.
Since 1989, the School of Art lecture series has brought artists from all realms of visual art to discuss their work on campus. ?The purpose [of the lecture series] is to supplement our students? education about practicing artists, theorists, and curators by bringing in well-known practitioners from around the world,? said Robert Bingham, an associate professor at the School of Art.
Through photography, interactive projects, and sculpture, much of Palmer?s work explores the idea of unused, in-between spaces in our world that appear to harbor potential. ?I?m looking for some kind of deliberately unfinished openness,? said Palmer. Unfortunately, open areas left simply for communities to share and enjoy are rapidly diminishing. Criticizing the increasing privatization of public space, Palmer often appears to be making a strong critique of our capitalist society as a whole. ?Not that I feel like all artists have to comment on the war or the state of the government or capitalism per se, but I do find that the effects of these contexts have taken over in my work,? Palmer explained.
One of the ways in which Palmer encourages participation from the public is by creating interactive, touchable sculptures that reveal their meaning through being moved around by gallery visitors. For example, in one exhibition, audience members are able to play with light cardboard boxes with heavy price tags, asking themselves if air could become a public commodity. In another project, visitors could combine small platforms in order to understand just how much potentially enjoyable unused land exists in our cities. These platforms were presented with another piece titled ?Open Lands,? a series of photographs documenting the ways in which ordinary citizens had turned some of Chicago?s 60,000 vacant lots into public gardens, outdoor museums, and food banks for the homeless. Many of these areas have survived, despite a constant risk of being destroyed or neglected. Hoping to inspire people to enter and enjoy these areas, Palmer is planning on turning ?Open Lands? into a book.
Palmer has also done a call for proposals from the public regarding a large unused space in Chicago. She received no sanctions or money from the city, nor was guarenteed that any of these ideas could be realized. Nevertheless, she received 35 different proposals from Chicago residents, representing a wide variety of visions, from landfills to sunflower gardens to retirement home projects. By involving the public in her creative process, Palmer hoped to ?stimulate a sense of collective ownership? in the community.
Palmer is currently involved in a project in Pittsburgh, organized by the studio for Creative Inquiry, in an area referred to as Haze Woods, between Homestead and Southside. She does not have a clear project in mind yet, but is doing her part in trying to stop development in the area from happening, as Haze Woods currently serves as a source of enjoyment and recreation for many local residents.
?Ms. Palmer?s lecture was an example of an artist working in both private and public practice with a pulse on involving others, the community into her practice,? said Bingham. ?She raises awareness about the ability of an artist to create change.?