During the summer of 2013, I spent many hours wandering the floor of an under-construction fashion outlet mall on Chicago’s outskirts. While the Forever 21, Hot Topic, etc were being constructed, cleaned and filled with Asian-made merchandise, a collection of 11 talented artists were dodging construction crews and creating original art pieces throughout the complex. Developer Arthur Weiner and Arts Initiative curators BooksIIII Bischof, Typoe and Cristina Gonzalez of Primary Projects kindly hired me to document the process, while artists Daniel Arsham, FriendsWithYou, Andrew Nigon, Jen Stark, Bhakti Baxter, Cody Hudson, Kenton Parker, Austyn Weiner, Jim Drain, Alvaro Ilizarbe and Bert Rodriguez lined the halls with their visions. It was an inspiring and exhausting endeavour, which is partly why it took me a few years to get these images on my blog (I got busy!). A huge thanks goes to everyone involved for letting me invade their workspaces. I still can’t get over the time and energy that went into it: Andrew’s hundreds of hand-crafted artificial balloons hanging from the rafters; Jen’s insanely colorful hand-drawn escalator design and elaborate sculpture; Alvaro’s weeks of laying atop a 30-foot tall scaffold while painting an entire ceiling and large foyer in super detail; Bert’s boxes and boxes of clocks, each needing adjustments; Jim’s snakes and colors that made my camera sensor give up; Bhakti’s hand-painted hypnotic foyer; FriendsWithYou’s trademark pseudo amusement park dangling from the sky; Cody’s super heavy panels secured expertly from the walls; Austyn and Kenton’s smartly prefabricated wall cover pieces; Daniel’s clever visions blended seamlessly into their surroundings, subtle and unexpected enough to make you do a double take and remember life is strange and it’s easy to forget this, especially while shopping for discounted shirts and new socks.
You can find more info about the project on the official website. Next time you’re in the food court enjoying one of Auntie Anne’s pretzels between clearance sales, you’ll have a bit of a better understanding of the countless hours that went into making an otherwise ordinary mall a little bit magical.