John Preus spoke to Lee Ann Norman at JSTOR Daily about his formative educational experiences, his approach to an object-based practice, and his previous show at Rhona Hoffman Gallery and the Hyde Park Art Center. Find an excerpt of the interview below.
LAN: More recently, you’ve been making work, using furniture from closed Chicago Public Schools. Can you share more about how you got the furniture and your interest in wanting to acquire it?
JP: I had a relationship with the Resource Center, and when someone would offer a furniture donation, they automatically routed the call to me because they were at capacity. About 5 years ago I got a call from the CPS facilities manager that they would be tearing down Crispus Attucks on 38th and State. The school was closed and had become a warehouse for all kinds of district stuff. I was working with another artist at the time, and most of the material went to his studio, but I kept a few things myself; that was the first time I started to think about how to use this material. A few years ago when the big wave of school closings happened, I got another call and made arrangements with the moving company to route as much of the stuff that was being thrown out as possible, to my shop, which ended up being about 6 semi-truck loads.
LAN: Your exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center was the first time you made work using that material?
JP: No, I made a few small objects out of it before that, a swing set. … I don’t feel like I have a specific politic around using that material other than to say we are at a moment of crisis with public institutions generally, and with developing a progressive vision of what that means. The material embodies that crisis for me, and can be framed in varyious ways—related to race, education, economic structures, public space . . . Depending on the project I’m working on, I change the frame.
Images courtesy of the artist, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and Sergej Vutuc.