John Preus: Adaptation

January 6–June 14, 2020

A site-specific installation at Harris Public Policy

In 2013, the city of Chicago shuttered 49 elementary schools. Through a set of coincidences, artist John Preus (UChicago MFA ’05) gained access to the furniture that was bound for the landfill as the schools were being cleared out.

Preus has been using wobbly chairs, marked-up desks, gum-laden bookshelves and other material for his own artistic and functional work ever since. He has also stewarded a warehouse of furniture and invited other artists and designers to respond to the material for exhibitions across the city.

For Adaptation, Preus builds on this past work and a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in order to create a functional, site-specific installation made from school furniture at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. The installation takes the form of a stage or platform that will be activated by the staff, students, policy-makers and faculty at Harris in collaboration with community members, artists, architects, educators, and others.

The furniture components used to construct the installation were reclaimed during the Smart Museum’s summer teen program, a partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority. As part of the six-week program young people deconstructed a cache of furniture, unlocking new potential for it to be applied in a number of different ways. These reclamation workshops took place at the site of the Museum’s long-time partner Sweet Water Foundation.

Set within one of the country’s top-ranked public policy schools and near communities directly impacted by the school closures, Adaptation provides a platform for conversations around social impact, collective loss, appropriation, public trauma, public education, and the future of the public realm in general.

How to visit

The Keller Center is located at 1307 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. Adaptation is on display and is open to the public during normal business hours (7:30 am–6 pm) Monday through Friday. 

Images: Installation views of John Preus: Adaptation, 2020. Photos by Harvey S. Tillis.