John Preus: Adaptation

2019 Interpreter in Residence

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

Drawing on a warehouse full of broken and damaged furniture, Preus has been using school chairs, desks, and other material for his own artistic and functional work ever since. He has also invited other artists and designers to respond to the material for exhibitions across the city.

Throughout 2019 Preus will continue his creative engagement with this material, and the emotional and psychological freight it carries, as the Smart Museum’s Interpreter in Residence. Adaptation begins in January with a period of investigation into the psychological effects of the closing of the public schools, including a series of public discussions and focused workshops. Based on these findings and other conversations with artists, practioners, and scholars, Preus will build a functional structure and develop a performance that in some way responds to the school closings.

“I imagine the material as something like compost, a fertile ground with the potential to encourage important public conversations and experiences.” —John Preus

Through these and other activities, this multifaceted project will examine ethical and political questions surrounding material from the closed schools, opening up conversations around collective loss, appropriation, public trauma, public education, and the future of the public realm in general.


The Interpreter in Residence is a yearlong program designed as a forum for Chicago-based artists and educators with an interest in social engagement to create participatory art experiences with Smart Museum guests. The program was inaugurated in 2013.

Image credits: Discarded furniture in storage. Photos by John Preus.