Art People: a hand up for the hand-to-mouth crowd | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Art People: a hand up for the hand-to-mouth crowd 

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Artist Linda Fuelling is coming to terms with the fact that none of her work will ever be for sale. "Sometimes it's like, why couldn't I have been a painter?" says the 32-year-old installation artist. When she decided to pursue site-specific work seriously she thought she could use some help, so she contacted another installation artist, Jean Marie Casbarian, through a mentorship program run by Artemisia Gallery. The program--now in its seventh year--is designed to help emerging artists develop the skills to make it as working professionals through monthly workshops and one-on-one advising. During their meetings over the past six months, Casbarian has advised Fuelling on technical issues, such as how to use different kinds of sound recording equipment, as well as on some larger questions--which graduate programs to consider and what kinds of jobs to look for in order to survive.

"I think what I gave her more than anything was support and validation of what she was doing," Casbarian says.

In the mid-90s, while doing postgraduate work in textiles and mixed-media at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Fuelling became fascinated by architecture, particularly of old houses. "I'm interested in the history of it, what people do to make living spaces their own," she says. She created an installation for Lawrence's Social Service League, which occupies a house built in the 1860s, covering the walls of one of the upstairs bedrooms with thrift-store clothing embedded in plaster, "to simulate wallpaper and to memorialize everyone who had lived there."

Fuelling moved here in 1998, worked as a temp, and designed costumes for Northlight, Strawdog, and other theater companies. What she really wanted to do, though, was more installations. So last spring she applied to Artemesia's program and, in January, hooked up with Casbarian, a gallery member who had returned to town from Denver just six months earlier.

Casbarian visited Fuelling's studio, where she says she "looked at what was driving Linda's work and helped her with certain ideas I saw in the piece." When she saw that Fuelling was interested in multimedia, she invited her over: "I'm the pack rat type--I have sort of a Frankenstein's laboratory full of old cameras and recording equipment, and I showed her what I had done in the past."

Casbarian says that she's struggled to support herself and her work, but "I'm one of those individuals who does a thousand things, finding what I can do to support it." Her income comes primarily from teaching photography, sometimes at universities but usually at community-based workshops.

"My work is very much a reflection of what I'm doing," says Casbarian. "When I was reading to the blind I was making installations 'brailling' rooms and talking about perceptions of bodies. Right now I'm working with refugees, and the installation that I'm working on for November is about the situation of women in Afghanistan. Everything I do, I become a conduit. Sometimes I think, if I had a full-time faculty position, would it narrow my vision?"

The piece Casbarian has been advising Fuelling on deals with Fuelling's experience of being relatively new to Chicago and "not feeling connected for a long time." Fuelling says that when she first moved to Chicago she noticed "the pigeons and the homeless people. I started comparing them--they were both living on the street, scavenging for food, living under harsh conditions." She began researching pigeons and collecting gloves that she and other people had found in the street. For this piece, No Land, she twisted and folded the gloves to look like birds and hung them from the ventilation system in Artemisia's main gallery, which represents the underside of an el track. In other areas of the gallery, she has incorporated the metal spikes that are used throughout the city to discourage pigeons from landing on building ledges.

No Land is on display through July 28 at Artemisia Gallery, 700 N. Carpenter, 312-226-7323, along with work by the ten other artists who participated in the mentorship program this year: Dawn Bennett, Ayana Evans, Jessica Patricia Keefe, Robbin O'Harrow, Pamela Paulsrud, Karen Phipps, Julia Rooney, Nicole C. Russell, Jamie Lou Thome, and Jessica Wright. Media represented include handmade paper, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, mixed-media assemblages, and, of course, site-specific installations. The show opens July 5; there will be a free reception on Friday, July 6, from 5 to 8 PM.

--Jen Sorenson

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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