Thursday, June 21, 2007


Juan Angel Chavez's Speaker Project at Hyde Park Art Center has patrons hearing in a new way

words: Anthonia Akitunde

Juan Angel Chavez's Speaker Project sits serenely inside Gallery 1 of the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) like a large jungle gym, waiting for someone to play with it. The 16 feet-high, 25 feet-long speaker is made entirely of found objects. Upon close inspection, the wood that makes up the sculpture has been taken from old billboard signs. Its east wall is studded with orange traffic cones in varying states of disrepair from one too many encounters with reckless drivers.

While the outside is impressive, the speaker proves the old adage to be true: It's what's on the inside that counts. The speaker can house a three-piece band and, since April, musicians have performed inside the wooden structure to enthusiastic crowds milling around outside, peering in through large peepholes. In collaboration with the Empty Bottle, Chavez and the Hyde Park Art Center have created a lineup of performers to play inside the speaker, with Chad Clark, the Intuitive Afro Project and David Hampton scheduled for June 23.

The concept of combining sculpture with sound came from a previous installation for Open End's "Tragic Beauty" group show in 2005. Chavez constructed a full-scale ship with the deck acting as a performance space, and the Empty Bottle's Pete Toalson brought bands on board. Similarly, the musicians performing for the Speaker Project are excited to play in their unique venue. "I'm looking forward the most to perhaps turning a few people on to how audio, as an art form, is thriving in Chicago outside the pretentious circles one might think it solely resides in," Chad Clark explains. Fellow musician Joel Ebert calls performing in the speaker one of "the most unique opportunities [they've] seen as a group." Ebert, who with Ed Hamel performs as Estesombelo, adds, "The combination of physical art work and [music] resulted in a composite outcome where both art forms complimented one another."

HPAC's Executive Director Chuck Thurow is thrilled by the results. "I think this is kind of a major breakthrough, not only for [Chavez's] work in terms of scale and character, but also [the general art world]," he says, adding that it's also a chance for North Siders to come down to the South Side. "It's like two different worlds, two neighborhoods," he explains. "And to actually get the Empty Bottle clientèle to think about coming down to the South Side of Chicago is another great part of the piece."

The Speaker Project at the Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S. Cornell, 773/324-5520) runs through July 8;