The new photographic mural, Descending to Heaven, by the Chicago-based artist Darryll Schiff, is the first completed Wabash Arts Corridor project to be funded through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Installed at 710 S. Wabash Ave. on an exterior wall overlooking an open lot, the image is saturated with colors that pop against the otherwise dull urban landscape of brick and concrete. Within the surrounding open space, the work can be viewed from a distance as well as from the adjacent “L” tracks. This project marks new territory for Schiff, as his first outdoor public work and first fundraising experience. The project covers new ground for the Wabash Arts Corridor (WAC), too, as the first illuminated piece among its public artworks.
The WAC, an initiative founded in 2013 as a means of connecting the visual, performing, and media arts, has since seen rapid growth in its outdoor public art.
Among the 12 projects in the South Loop that use public space as a “living urban canvas,” most are painted murals by renowned street artists such as Shepard Fairey, EINE and Hebru Brantley. By including this photographic addition to the corridor, WAC broadens the scope of its outdoor art collection to become not just a site for street art but a destination for public art in a broader sense.
While all WAC works by professional artists are self-funded, the projected cost of the 24-by-56 foot vinyl photographic mural, installation and lighting was $18,000. Schiff and his studio assistant worked diligently to produce a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. Unlike other similar crowdfunding sites, which partially fund projects that meet only a portion of their goal, Kickstarter takes an all-or-nothing approach. Projects that lack full support for their goal receive no funding, a risk that Schiff says “created a sense of urgency.” Reaching out to his email list of professional contacts, Schiff offered incentives via Kickstarter to entice collectors and supporters of his work to back the project. Particularly generous donations were rewarded with a 30” x 40” artist print at a significant discount from the normal selling price for Schiff’s work. The “sense of urgency” strategy ultimately paid off, fully funding the project and exceeding the goal by $2,000 within three short weeks.
The abstracted photograph depicts another artwork that was prominently installed in the city of Chicago, a temporary site-specific installation by the contemporary Indian artist Jitish Kallat. On view at the Art Institute of Chicago from 2010 to 2011, Kallat’s Public Notice 3 consisted of colored LED lights that formed text along the risers of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase. The text was drawn from a speech by Swami Vivekananda, delivered at the Art Institute of Chicago during the First World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893. Vivekananda’s message, focused on tolerance across religions and spiritual humanism, took on a new meaning as installed post-9/11 in five colors corresponding to the US Department of Homeland Security color-coded threat advisory scale. While Schiff’s image of five dark figures silhouetted by highly saturated lights is abstracted enough to escape easy recognition, individual words from the speech are still present among the vertical photographic blur.
The title, “Descending to Heaven,” further links the piece to the religious theme in Kallat’s work while considering the Vivekananda text in a more critical light. Hesitant to box the work into a singular interpretation, the artist hopes that the public nature of the work will spark dialogue about art that reaches beyond the usual physical constraints of a museum or gallery. Considering the distinct geographic connections of both the depicted Kallat installation and the Vivekananda speech, this native Chicagoan’s photographic work has deep roots in the art and history of the city.