Earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage, artist Caren Rudman committed herself to making a piece of art every day throughout quarantine and posting a photo of it to Instagram. Little did Rudman know that commitment would last through the end of the year and beyond.
That daily exercise was in part the inspiration for a new exhibition at The Art Center Highland Park, titled “Of Time and Place.” With the pandemic causing postponements of many planned exhibitions, Rudman, the Center’s Curator, scrambled to pull together the virtual exhibition.
“We went from having exhibitions scheduled two years out to saying, ‘What are going to do in two months,'” Rudman says. “I kept thinking about how our sense of time and place is altered during this time.”
The Center put out a call for entries based on the “Of Time and Place” theme to explore not just the quarantine but the “Groundhog Day” aspect of life during this time.
“I talked to many artists who suddenly couldn’t get to their studios and don’t have space to make art at home, and their work has changed because of it,” Rudman says. “All of those things were at the forefront when we decided to do the exhibit. What are you doing during quarantine and how has it affected your process?”
The result is an exhibition featuring 55 works by 31 artists, some of whom are based on the North Shore. Many of the works were created after the pandemic started, and some older works reflected themes that emerged during quarantine.
Highland Park-based artist Victoria Marchio, whose work is featured in the exhibition, served as guest juror for the show. Marchio says the show is an exploration of the impact of a pandemic in real time.
“In limited space, people feel stressed and confused and I just feel like that is where we are as a society,” Marchio says. “Right now, everybody’s just kind of stuck.”
Marchio says the pandemic has caused her to focus on the preciousness of life, and in part it was the inspiration for one of her works in the show, titled “10:05.” The piece is a remembrance of her grandfather, who was killed in a car crash in Michigan while her father was a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“The pandemic made me think about how special life really is and I think that’s what caused me to go down the path of the “10:05″ piece,” Marchio says. “That was a moment in time in my family’s life that forever changed the foundation of my Italian family.”
Lisa Kinzelberg, an artist based in Winnetka, was surfing the web looking for local art classes for her son when she came across the Art Center Highland Park’s Website and saw the call for entries for “Of Time and Place.”
Her works in the show, titled “Wrinkled Earth” and “Rough Seas,” reflect the chaos and uncertainty of our times.
“I’ve been looking for ways to show my work and exhibit and this seemed like a perfect opportunity,” Kinzelberg says. “The topic of the pandemic made me think of two pieces I created right before COVID-19 hit and I just knew I had to submit them.”
Kinzelberg says she was in something of a creative slump before the pandemic and she created the pieces in the show to push through the drought.
“I was kind of going against the flow, trying to break through and you can see there’s conflict and power,” she says. “I was trying to control the piece but at the same time realizing it’s hard to control and doing a kind of creative dance. There’s a struggle with what we’re going through and both pieces are very apocalyptic.”
Dan Oliver is an artist and Exhibit Designer for the Chicago History Museum, and his work is inspired by Chicago artists from the ’70s whose art was influenced by historically Chicago themes. One of his three works in the exhibition, titled “Inferno,” draws on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
“The imagery I generate in my work, a lot of it I purposely do it in a way that mines the unconscious. I don’t always know what it means,” Oliver says. “Fire is a recurring theme and fire has many meanings, from hell and punishment to the state of the world with global warming.”
Oliver says fire is also a symbol of change, and particularly symbolic of the current times with the pandemic.
“Our society is undergoing a lot of transformation right now so what I like in art is when there are multiple meanings of what’s possible,” he says. “I don’t like to look at a painting and know what it means and that’s that.”
Unironically, “Of Time and Place” opened with Zoom call when participating artists introduced their work and spoke about the meaning and inspiration for each piece. Rudman says that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, she is proud that The Art Center Highland Park continues to help artists show their works.
“I think right now artists are making work and they need to get it out there and share their ideas and share what they’ve done,” Rudman says. “The hardest part for an artist is to make the work and have it sit in a studio. We all want to get our work out there and share and communicate. That’s why we do it.”
“Of Time and Place” runs through Jan. 2. For more information, visit theartcenterhp.org