Review: Six Artists Imagine All That Glows in the Dark of Democracy at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery

It’s two months until our midterm elections. And four weeks for you to find some electoral insights by checking out All That Glows in the Dark of Democracy, an interactive exhibition by six artists using video, sculpture and interactive installations. The artists ask their viewers to think critically about politics and our current political divides. You can see it until October 1.

The exhibit at Weinberg/Newton Gallery in River West, created in collaboration with the ACLU of Illinois, imagines alternative kinds of elections and even an alternative U.S. flag—and asks us to step beyond our political divides and actually communicate with people on the other side of the political spectrum. 

Kasia Houlihan,, gallery director, explained how that two-way communication is an important element in All That Glows.

The exhibit doesn’t presume there’s a single, universal definition of democracy. Instead the artists offer different ways to enter the discussion via sensory engagement—light, sound, text and touch. The exhibit also is related to the ACLU’s new Engagement Series on Democracy: We the People—an effort to counter the “us vs. them” mentality.

The first area you’ll see in the gallery is an installation by Ariana Jacob, who formed a (fictitious) organization titled The American Society for Personally Questioning Political Ideas in 2012. The installation is made up of lawn signs, a banner, fliers, a newsprint handout, and an online blog. As the 2012 election approached, Jacob began traveling around the country to talk directly with conservatives about their differences in political beliefs. Her goal is to counter the personal and online world where we all only interact with those with whom we agree. At the end of the handout, she suggests how we can begin such a conversation ourselves. (Thanksgiving is looming, with the possibility of a conversation with that stereotypical conservative uncle.)

The American Society for Personally Questioning Political Ideas. Photo by Evan Jenkins.

Jacob’s lawn signs ask questions like:

“Why do the concerns that matter to people on the right seem either stupid or wrong to people on the left and vice versa?” 

and

“How much does who you talk with shape what you believe?”

The first gallery also contains what artist Hannah Givler calls a “reverb damping sculpture,” made up of a roof structure that covers half of the room, with pine framing and felt carpet baffles meant to change the sound when you converse beneath it.

“You, the Murmur in the Air” is the contribution of Alejandro T. Acierto, featuring powered-on painted megaphones. Visitors are invited to express their views by quotes on the wall from Claudia Rankine’s work, Citizen, and from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. “But if you take my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what will be left to me?”

Local: I’d like to vote on zoning issues to require developers to set aside a much greater percentage of affordable (low-priced) rental units.” (For instance, I support the #RiseUptown protesters because the developer who wants to build a 314-unit “luxury” tower on the old Weiss Hospital parking lot will include eight (8!) affordable units.)

The second gallery is “The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t,” by Aram Han Sifuentes. The colorful, brightly lit space contains three voting stations, where you can cast your ballot on issues you would like to be able to vote on. You can speak out on local, national and global issues on ballots in several languages.  

I took an English/Espanol ballot into the voting booth and noted two of my hot-button issues:

Reverb damping sculpture. Photo by Evan Jenkins.

Local: I’d like to vote on zoning issues to require developers to set aside a much greater percentage of affordable (low-priced) rental units.” (For instance, I support the #RiseUptown protesters because the developer who wants to build a 314-unit “luxury” tower on the old Weiss Hospital parking lot will include eight (8!) affordable units.)

National: I want to be able to vote on climate change and energy issues (because if we don’t take drastic measures, there will be no planet for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.)

Voting rights have always been an important issue for the American Civil Liberties Union, from its formation in 1920 at the time of the ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote,  through its current voting rights efforts.  

In the gallery’s courtyard to the north of the building is the “Proposal for a New Flag for the United States of America” by Aay Preston Myint. Myint’s suggestion is a lavender flag. Whether you like that particular proposal or not, you probably would join me in looking forward to the debate that would ensue over choosing a flag to replace the Stars and Stripes.

The final installation is a 15-minute video of Ukrainian sites where statues of Lenin have been removed. “Monumental Memory” by Kandis Friesen is a solemn, meditative view of these sites. The camera focuses on each vacated pedestal for a few minutes as people wander by, alone, in couples or small groups, apparently grown accustomed to the statues’ removals. The video is accompanied by a newsprint essay on Ukrainian Modernism and toppled monuments by Dmytro Soloviov, a Ukrainian photographer, writer and architecture researcher.

Proposal for a new flag for the United States of America. Photo by Evan Jenkins.

Public Programs

Several in-person and virtual events are planned for September in conjunction with All That Glows. Events are free, but registration is requested. See the website for registration and more information.

The American Society of Personally Questioning Political Ideas: Public Conversation. 
Hosted by artist Ariana Jacobs. Friday, September 16, 6-8pm.

All That Glows: A Night of Storytelling on Democracy. Hybrid in-person and virtual event. Wednesday, September 21, 6-7:30pm. A special performance of first-person stories presented by 2nd Story that examine our individual understanding of democratic values.

Family Day, Banned BooksWeek Edition. A day to look, make, and talk about art. Hands-on art-making activities for all ages created and led by artists, educators, and activists. A mixed indoor/outdoor event in person. Saturday, September 24, 10am-1pm.

Banned Books Week will be celebrated September 18-24 this year. Every year the ACLU marks Banned Books Week, an annual event initiated by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, that celebrates the freedom to read and calls attention to the wealth of creative expression that is stifled when books can be forbidden from library shelves. The ALA is observing banned and challenged books this year with its Unite Against Book Bansprogram.

We the People: A Conversation on Democracy. A virtual event hosted by the Next Generation Society of the ACLU. Thursday, September 29, 6-7pm.

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All That Glows in the Dark of Democracy continues at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery, 688 N . Milwaukee Ave., through October 1. Admission is free. Gallery hours are Thursday-Friday 1-5pm and Saturday 12-4pm. Visits to the exhibit also can be arranged for school groups. Contact Lisa Lindvay, education coordinator, at 312-529-5090 or by email at mailto:lisa@weinbergnewtongallery.com.

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Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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