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Environmentally-charged artwork blossoms at EXPO Chicago

April 11, 2022

Last week, the National Resources Defense Coalition (NRDC) staged a multimedia exhibition at EXPO Chicago, the city’s annual major art fair. In collaboration with Justseeds, an international artist cooperative, and propelled by environmental activism, the NRDC’s ninth year of EXPO programming spoke a visual language that was more punk rock than prim and polished.

Built out in the gray, industrial concrete of a Navy Pier parking garage, the pop-up art space was helmed by Elizabeth Corr, NRDC’s Associate Director of Arts & Cultural Partnerships.

“From the beginning, we intentionally designed the project to function outside — wheat-pasting posters and mural-making is an activity we associate with being outside,” Corr said, pointing out the enormous technicolor wall of pasted prints and murals. Wheat-pasting has a long history in activist communities; artists use a thick mixture of flour and water to create an adhesive for political posters made out of thin paper. Because this method is typically used in guerilla street art, it radiates defiant, DIY energy.

Combined with a mural and multimedia performances, the special exhibition boasted global climate narratives. 12 artists participated in the mural’s creation, while 26 international artists created prints for the “moveable gallery.”

“Our project intended to raise awareness of a variety of environmental issues, which it did quite successfully,” Corr described. “It also spotlighted movement-based artwork — socially-, politically-, and environmentally-engaged — in contrast to the commercial nature of the art fair.”

At the exhibition, screen print artists churned out an array of protest-driven signage, using bold colors and text to make meaningful calls to action. As the prints dried on long stretches of clothesline, viewers could pick up finished prints free of charge.

Corr said that screen printing was the ideal medium for this show.

“The works are highly reproducible, and the prints can be used for community organizing, protests, etc. long after the fair ends,” she said. “It fits squarely with our goal to inspire and mobilize audiences through art, to highlight a variety of environmental issues impacting communities locally, nationally and internationally.”

The weekend also featured additional programming and work from Artists’ Commit, Era Footwork Crew, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, Rebirth Poetry Ensemble, Experimental Sound Studio, and William Estrada’s Mobile Coloring Cart.

“NRDC identified environmental issues of interest while Justseeds managed outreach to the collective and called upon artists who were interested in participating,” Corr continued. “It was all about the issues that spoke to them. Artists had complete creative freedom.”

In the end, Corr believes NRDC X Justseeds displayed a robust ecosystem of creative practices and green concepts.