Jennifer Cronin is a Chicago based artist who’s practice utilizes psychologically charged and uncanny images. Her latest series continues to laden realistic imagery with hidden potentiality with portraits of foreclosed homes on Chicago’s south side. While the post 2008 foreclosure crisis seems to have slowed and even reversed in certain parts of the city, some areas such as the far west and south sides, still maintain high foreclosure rates. For many residents this crisis still exists. The image of the decaying buildings reflect the wreckage of personal lives disrupted, as well as the degraded social and economic conditions which brought them about. Below is an interview with the artist about the work:
Many of your past works involve encounters with the surreal, how do you see that impacting this new body of work about foreclosed homes? Do you see the homes as encounters with the surreal?
In my past work, I used surreal, somewhat abstract elements to play with the idea of the unknown. I was always interested in creating a psychological space that was some mixture of wonder and fear. I enjoyed using the ambiguity of abstraction to draw the viewer in, bringing about a sense of wonder and encouraging people to consider multiple possibilities. While I don’t see the homes literally as encounters with the surreal, I think I’m interested in creating a similar space of wonder. One that is filled with untold stories, struggles, accomplishments, and disappointments.
How did you go about picking the particular buildings that you drew?
When traveling to areas of Chicago that have been hit the hardest by the foreclosure crisis, it seems like there is sadly no end of boarded up houses in sight. I came from these trips with many images to choose from, each just as interesting as the last. I think what I was most drawn to in these images was the details. The icicle Christmas light that were still left on the porch, the peeling paint, or official documents taped to the front door—each detail told a story, so I was looking for houses with the most interesting details. I also chose some houses that were surrounded by empty lots, since the empty lots tell just as stark and powerful a tale.
Did you actually visit the sights? Did you do the drawings plein air?
I did visit the sites, but did not do the drawings en plein air just for practical reasons. Particularly, the amount of time spent on each piece would make that a difficult feat. But visiting the sites and photographing these houses was a very poignant and meaningful process for me. On my first excursion to photograph houses in Englewood, I traveled with the help of JR Fleming, the founder of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. This noble, grass-roots organization helps victims of foreclosure in any way possible. Sometimes they take back and fix up abandoned houses and move homeless families back into them. Sometimes they stage protests at eviction sites. They help to rebuild communities and give some power back to the people. I felt truly humbled and awed by the greatness of JR and his movement, and it really helped me to see the larger picture.
All of these buildings are on the far south side of Chicago, correct? Is this particular location important to you or the work in any way, or do you see it as expressive of something more general?
Most of the drawings in this series are from the south side of Chicago, except for one. When I began the series, I ventured close to where I was living at the time to Humboldt Park to take my first set of photos. So, the first drawing in the series was from Humboldt Park. After that, all of the other houses were from the south side, particularly Englewood and south Back of the Yards. These neighborhoods, along with several others, have been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. There are some blocks that are nearly empty because of all of the houses that have been torn down. When people think about the foreclosure crisis and abandoned buildings, many times they think about other cities such as Detroit, and might not necessarily realize the scar left on neighborhoods right here in Chicago. And I do think that is expressive larger issues relating to race and socioeconomic status. What does it mean that we live in a society where the people who need help the most are forced out of their homes and onto the streets? And that those who have taken advantage and trapped many of these people with ballooning mortgages and other deceitful practices are completely unpunished. These questions are at the heart of these works, along with all of the untold stories and individual lives surrounding these houses.
“Shuttered” (above) features this new body of work by Jennifer Cronin and will be on exhibition at Elephant Room Gallery located at 704 S Wabash Ave. in Chicago’s South Loop November 13th, 2015 through January 2nd, 2016. An opening reception will be on Friday the 13th from 6:30 to 9:00pm.