Chicago artists collaborate with Art on theMART for spring program; focus on climate change

By Kristen Gesicki, Staff Reporter

Onlookers gaze across the Chicago River off the corner of Wells Street and Wacker Drive as the Merchandise Mart is transformed into a vibrant coral reef through projections Saturday, April 9. Sam Tucker

The Merchandise Mart lit up as projections of dancers glided across the building, their dance moves flowing effortlessly together. Their blue shirts turned into water as the dancers engaged with one another to create waves and oceanic motions. Natural sound of water could be heard as the dancers spoke about the albedo effect, the rising of water and climate change issues.

Crowds gathered and watched on the Chicago Riverwalk near Wacker Drive as vibrant colors formed into coral and other shapes of an underwater world.

Art on theMART, the largest permanent digital art projection in the world — according to promotional material for the exhibit — returned for its spring program at the Merchandise Mart, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza. Art on theMART, in partnership with the Shedd Aquarium, will showcase two climate change-themed projections.

The projections began being displayed every night at 8:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m and will continue through June 29.

Patrick McArdle, a junior film and television major, attended the program on its opening night. McArdle said he was impressed with the two showings.

“Just the idea of projecting something like that onto a building that big, I was blown away,” McArdle said. “And the way that they were able to edit around the building and use the building to enhance the performance of it all was really, really cool.”

Choreography highlighting climate change and the human body are projected as onlookers and pedestrians go about their evening, some stopping to find out what the buzz is about. Sam Tucker

One of the two projections, entitled “Choral,” is about marine life. Natural sound of oceanic life brings the projection alive, with psychedelic noises adding to the background audio for the floating sea creatures. It was created by localStyle, a collaborative founded in Amsterdam by artist Marlena Novak and composer Jay Alan Yim, with collaboration from Shedd Aquarium researchers.

“The habitats the corals create are fundamental to the sustainability quarter of all marine species, as well as the livelihoods of 500 million people around the planet. These ecosystems are in crisis,” Novak said. “We hope that the public will be engaged by the beauty and charisma of these creatures, and then it will lead to greater appreciation for ocean conservation efforts.”

This year marks the “Year of Chicago Dance,” an initiative of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

“Throughout 2022, we will unveil additional dance-based works for the year of Chicago dance that celebrate the legacy and future of dance in Chicago,” said Cynthia Noble, executive director of Art on theMART.

According to Noble, “Floe” created by Carrie Hanson — an adjunct faculty member in Columbia’s Dance Department and artistic and executive director of the Seldoms — will kick off the celebration of the Year of Chicago Dance.

The “Floe” choreography highlights climate change, extreme weather, bodies of water, vanishing ice and the human body. “Floe” is performed by Dee Alaba, Sarah Gonsiorowski, Damon Green and Maggie Vannucci.

The Chicago Riverwalk, near Wacker Drive and Wells Street, fills with bundled-up Chicagoans waiting for the spring return of Art on theMART, the largest permanent digital art projection in the world. Sam Tucker

The Seldoms — a dance company founded by Hanson — has done numerous works that have environmental themes. Past productions include references to climate denialism, plastic pollution and landfills, along with pieces reflecting on human’s consumption and disposal of plastic.

“Floe is kind of like a watery sort of space, a watery world — which we love because the Merchandise [Mart] is right above the Chicago River,” Hanson said. “[The Seldoms] wanted to keep making reference to both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan because Chicago has its own particular challenges with climate change, insofar as Lake Michigan is already rising.”

The Art on the Mart will be the longest running and most public performance The Seldoms have performed.

Hanson said The Seldoms have worked on “Floe” since 2018. Her inspiration for the audio work came from interviews of people who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Insight from climate activists, scholars and research scientists helped ensure the accuracy of the interpretation. The dancers can be heard speaking of the albedo effect, the amount of light or energy reflected by a surface.

“We liked that idea, to remind us all how interconnected the human population is with regards to climate change,” Hanson said. “People tend to think that … Miami is flooded all of the time with the rising tides, or what’s happening in the Arctic only affects them. But, it’s really one ecosystem. We wanted to get at, through the choreography, this notion of interconnectivity.”

Griffin Smith, an audience member at the opening night of Art on theMART’s spring program, said she is interested in protecting the climate.

“I studied environmental science and policy, and I like to think that my work will help combat the effects and abate carbon dioxide,” Smith said. “I think that any opportunity to collectively talk about something that is important is wonderful for the community.”

Visit Art on theMART’s website for more information on the featured artists and projects and the City of Chicago’s website for upcoming Year of Chicago Dance events.