Anything you can do…

By Trevor Ballanger

Art can be interpreted a number of ways. Depending on the eye of the beholder, an artist’s talent is lovingly adored, heavily scrutinized and sometimes even imitated. While allowing the audience to modify work may be unheard of to most artists, one Chicago exhibition is making it OK to say, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

Curator Jenny Lam is taking drastic measures to prove art can be important to anyone if they’re given the opportunity to take matters into their own hands. Her latest endeavor, “I CAN DO THAT,” currently showing at Variable Space, 1564 N. Damen Ave., furthers her quest to get artists to step out of their comfort zones by presenting various pieces of art that visitors to the exhibition are allowed to put their own creative spin on.

The concept came to Lam, 24, when she realized the growing disconnect between artists’ intentions and how audiences interpret their work. She said this is a problem typical of the art world, and she’s grateful to the more than 40 artists for being open-minded to the concept.

Chicago artist Clarisse Perrette is lending two pieces to the show. Perrette, 42, said allowing the modifications is a bold move for an artist.

“I think it goes both ways in that some artists and some artwork can be pretentious,” Lam said. “It’s kind of a challenge to both parties involved—challenging the artists to be more open and also challenging the audience to think about the artist’s position.”

Participating artists will display their own pieces along with the same materials used to make them. Lam will be circulating the exhibit throughout its two-week duration and videotaping the modification processes, the end result of which she said will take on a living, breathing life of its own. Afterward, the artist will be able to sell or keep the “finished” product.

Finding the right pieces for the exhibit was inevitably a challenge for their creators. The selection process was hard for Perrette because she said so many of her paintings, particularly portraits, have personal significance to her.

However, the need to vanquish pretenses in the art community overpowered her anxieties. She said the situation is actually ironic because people will probably find it a daunting task to mark over someone else’s work and call it their own.

“Art is a dialogue for me,” Perrette said. “Some people have trouble parting with their work and want to keep it around. I love work going out into the world and being seen by people and being interacted with in many ways. That being said, this

was complicated.”

Lam said the exhibition will also showcase nontraditional forms of artwork, including street art, costumes and performance pieces. On April 27, the exhibit’s last day, comedian Caitlin Bergh will perform a preview of her upcoming stand-up routine. Bergh, 26, will pull a story idea out of a hat and perform for three minutes. Audience members will be asked to perform a comedy routine with the same storyline and attempt to make it funnier than the last.

Bergh, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, said doing comedy routines as a form of art is a way to “connect people who are drifting away from each other.” When people share an experience like art or stand-up, it forms a common ground and an intimate human connection among strangers, she said.

According to Perrette, this exhibit says that despite having a smaller art community, Chicago has more of an adventurous spirit than places like New York. Bergh described Lam’s exhibition as the literal deconstruction of the “artist-as-a-snob” idea. Being part of the exhibit gives artists the chance to understand what viewers see as opposed to what was intended, she said. Lam said she agrees with Bergh because letting people work together on a single piece of art aid in the community’s creative growth.

“I’ve always been interested in audience interaction and getting a lot of people involved in creating art,” Lam said. “I tried to get artists to break out of their shells. For this show, it’s kind of breaking down even more barriers.”

“I CAN DO THAT” runs through April 27 at Variable Space, 1564 N. Damen Ave., 3rd floor, from 7 – 10 p.m. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m Monday-Wednesday, or by appointment.