Karen Reimer

Untitled (for the 50 Chicago public schools closed in 2013), 2017

9 embroidered seat cushions for chairs formerly belonging to the Chicago public schools and 

Made for Infinite Games 50/50, curated by John Preus

                                                                                                    

 

I made seat cushions for the standard institutional wooden chairs that were originally used in the closed public schools. I embroidered copies of the graffiti, stamps, and other marks that I found on the chairs and other furniture from the closed schools onto the cushions.

 

In some cases, the marks were just pure energy scribbles made by a kid with a crayon held under the table out of sight of the teacher. Others were laboriously carved into the wood.  The most common things written are names, swear words, and expressions of love.

 

I liked the idea of resurrecting this writing, so to speak. This seemed like a way to bring back the human reality of those students who sat at those tables on those chairs and wrote messages to a real or imagined audience. The closure of the schools and the throwing away of their furniture felt emotionally to me like erasing those graffiti-writing kids that learned in them in the past, as well as throwing away a future education for other kids in those neighborhoods.

 

However, I have ambivalence about this project. I fear that I and the other artists working with this material from closed public schools are perhaps tourists of other people‚Äôs social disaster.  And even though we truly care about the lack of educational equality for kids in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, art is not going to change this situation in any practical way.  We can say that we are reminding people about it, maintaining a dialogue about it, but that dialogue is happening within the art world, which is pretty much preaching to the choir.  What I hope is that there is some acknowledgement of my ambiguity in putting this graffiti as decoration on cushions that make these institutional chairs more comfortable.