The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s IMPACT Performance Festival Is Going Off Campus. Here’s What to See

Zhou B Art Center will showcase 15 live performances by students over two days.

Sungjae Lee, performance of Untitled (Messy Yellowish), 2018.
Sungjae Lee, performance of Untitled (Messy Yellowish) (2018).

For the first time since its inception, IMPACT, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual student performance showcase, is going off campus. To make it happen, the school is collaborating with two of the city’s most established performance arts organizations, Defibrillator Gallery and Zhou B Art Center. Over the course of two days (April 12 and 14) 15 of the school’s MFA and BFA candidates will take over the Zhou B Art Center’s sprawling 87,000-square-foot space to present live performances and time-based media, alongside an accompanying gallery exhibition.

Lariel Joy, performance of There is a butterfly in you, 2018,

Lariel Joy, performance of There is a butterfly in you (2018).

The collaboration is the brainchild of Defibrillator Gallery founder Joseph Ravens, a class of 2000 SAIC alumni. Ravens opened Defibrillator Gallery in 2010 and the space quickly established itself as a bastion for performance art during a period of waning interest, eventually relocating to the Zhou B Art Center in 2017. “Defibrillator has brought nationally and internationally renowned artists to Chicago, and re-established Chicago as an important hub in the world of performance,” said Roberto Sifuentes, a professor of performance at SAIC. “Joseph has always been very generous to our students and the school, offering his space and providing opportunities for students to present on a professional level.”

Hoping to expand the reach of IMPACT, Ravens reached out to the Zhou Brothers, the contemporary artists who founded the expansive Art Center, to help bring the festival out of the school and into the city of Chicago. 

Kyra Lehman, performance of Intimacy Excerpt at Proximity Theatre, 2018.

Kyra Lehman, performance of Intimacy (2018).

In many ways the relocation was a natural fit. The core of Zhou B Art Center’s mission is to provide artists with space to experiment.“In Chicago, art space is a rare commodity and conscious decisions about how space is used become crucial for where and how art thrives,” said Michael Zhou. “To us the partnership brings very interesting forces together; it sparks a powerful collision that opens up many possibilities.”

Aram Atamian, Performance Still, 2019.

Aram Atamian, Performance Still (2019).

Ravens sees the collaboration as an important turning point for IMPACT and for performance art in general. “There is a real openness to conceptual work right now, in projects that bring people together and build community, which has helped performance art gain the attention of a new generation,” he said. “In order to adapt and evolve within the current art market, it is important for performance artists to think about how to show their work within visual art contexts. Being able to participate in exhibitions without the financial burden of travel and housing removes a difficult challenge and expands artists’ ability to be visible and active on a global scale.” 

Phaedra Beauchamp, performance of Hero Worship, 2018.

Phaedra Beauchamp, performance of Hero Worship (2018).

Throughout the two-day festival, attendees can expect a range of dance and choreography, new media technologies, traditional musical instrumentation, ritualistic ceremonies, readings, and more. Asked which performance he was most looking forward to, Ravens was hard pressed to choose a favorite, but mentioned the work of Sungjae Lee whose practice explores ideas of desire, fetish, and masculinity through a lens of Asian identity, Catholic rituals, and architecture.

“He sculpts clay on his body to represent the “perfect” male torso and then adds human hair until the materials become grotesque,” Ravens said. Other promising performances include Phaedra Beauchamp‘s explorations of cult identity and hypnosis, as well as Kyra Lehman‘s ensemble work, which will close the festival, and that promises to “explore the meaning of being alive.” 

IMPACT Performance Festival, presented with Defibrillator Gallery, will take place at Zhou B Art Center on Friday, April 12, 6-10 p.m., and Sunday, April 14, 5-9 p.m. 

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