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:: By Amy M. Braverman

:: Photo courtesy Rakowitz and Lombard-Fried Projects, New York

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Peer Review ::

Old art is new again

Artist Dan Peterman recycles his recycled art for the Smart Museum.

photo:  old art is new again
Michael Rakowitz, paraSITE, 1998–ongoing.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case one person’s hazardous material is another’s green-friendly art. For artist Dan Peterman, MFA’86, a South Side Chicago warehouse filled with old University lab equipment became a treasure trove of sculpture materials.

First displayed in the Smart Museum of Art’s 2000 exhibit Ecologies, the sculpture Excerpts from the Universal Lab included handheld Geiger counters, metal rods, stacked chairs, paraffin wax, a pulley, canisters, a fishing reel, electric wire, glass tubes, an Underwood typewriter, jars of Arrowroot, and a fire extinguisher. The items had been in a warehouse, where a group of lab technicians and others loosely affiliated with the University brought items discarded on campus, both for independent research and to recycle. When the warehouse became overloaded and new landlords threatened to trash the stuff, Peterman and the local Resource Center helped properly discard and recycle the materials. Peterman’s sculpture was part of that effort.

Since its first run, new incarnations of Universal Lab (also the warehouse name) have been featured in two other museums. Now it returns to the Smart, where Peterman recycles his recyclables for Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art, running through January 15, 2006. The project, Peterman says in his artist’s statement, combines “the exaggerated, post–Manhattan Project, Cold War” U of C research budget; the human energy expended to move that budget’s remains; and “nearby, affordable warehouse space.” These “forces,” he says, transformed the Universal Lab “from a flawed, impoverished scientific research offshoot into something much more deeply...compelling.”

Joining Peterman in Beyond Green are 11 other organizations and artists, including Michael Rakowitz, who collaborated with homeless men in Cambridge, MA, to design his paraSITE sculptures. Made of tape and plastic bags, the structures are inflated with waste heat vented from buildings, becoming not only sculptures but also warm shelters. Rakowitz has since built paraSITEs in New York and Baltimore.