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Artists create work that explores the edges of St. Louis

People gather inside a giant inflatable bubble to listen to presentations about art
Provided by Gavin Kroeber
At the Edge of Everything Else as hosted inside the Space Buster behind the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

As the sun sets, several people circle around giant plastic disk laid out behind the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. The disk inflates and attendees are invited to walk back and forth as it grows into a massive bubble.

Adults giggle as performers run around the inflated orb before inviting people inside for an installment of “At the Edge of Everything Else,” a creative soiree hosted by artist and organizer Gavin Kroeber. It’s part of a project to highlight art rooted in the urban fabric of St. Louis.

For much of this fall Kroeber has hosted the event at Blank Space on Cherokee Street.   It includes social planners, urbanists, and civic leaders have come together to present their work before discussing it with attendees.  Presenters have included artist Jenny Price, Saint Louis University Communications Professor Amber Johnson, sculptor and landscaper Chris Carl, Creative Reaction Lab founder Antoinette D. Carroll, and Washington University Architecture Professor Micah Stanek.  

To better understand the type of work the series highlights, St. Louis Public Radio spoke with several participants about their work. 

Gavin Kroeber

Kroeber has long explored unexpected locations for art, among them the Phoenix suburbsand the Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He hopes bringing people from various disciplines together sparks dialogue in the creative community in the city.

“It’s a really exciting time in St. Louis,” Kroeber said. “A lot of people are doing this kind of work out in the fabric of the city, producing wildly creative projects. But they don’t get spoken of in the same breath.”

Michael Allen

Allen is a noted preservationist who has worked as consultant for architectural and development projects and teaches at Washington University.  Recently he’s embarked on a number of creative projects like the Department of Walking, which “proposes walking as a method of research, and curates peripatetic excursions that generate place knowledge through action.” As part of the series, he presented an experimental lecture that imagines the future timeline of St. Louis. 

“Having worked on the cusp of history and activism you start seeing things you think might happen come true, and some things that don’t,” Allen said. “And you start wondering ‘where are these lineages of historic and social structures that bring the city to be?’”

Michael Allen performs an imagined narrative of St. Louis's future to the soundtrack from the 1981 film Escape From New York, which was filmed in St. Louis.

Katherine Simone Reynolds

Photographer and choreographer Katherine Simone Reynolds’ work borders portraiture and landscape photography.  Reynolds looks for emotional connection with her subjects as she photographs them in locations in and around the St. Louis region. Part of her recent work “Optical Doubles, on the Binary” was shot Skate King roller rink in north St. Louis. Reynolds said tying art to specific locations like black cultural centers acknowledges the people who live, work and play there.

“It’s really heavy because it’s St. Louis, and there’s a lot of identities that no one cares about and whenever you live in a space that no one cares about, what kind of identity do you even get to have?” Reynolds said.

Juan William Chavez

Chavez runs Northside Workshop, a block from the heart of the Old North neighborhood. The space operates as a hub for community workshops which  include gardening projects and support groups. He also creates work that documents his bee-keeping practice and has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship.  He said blending site-specific activism and art can inspire introspection.

“It’s that moment when you empty yourself that you might have self-realizations, and self-realizations can lead to problem solving,” Chavez said. “So in one sense it’s about the environment, about what we’re doing, but you walk away with something completely different." 

Jesse Vogler and Jennifer Colten

Vogler, an artist and designer, has collaborated with Colten, a photographer, and designer Jonathan Hanrahan on “The American Bottom,” a multimedia project.  It maps important but forgotten sites in Illinois just over the river from St. Louis. Several photographs from the project are on display in a small trailer parked in Granite City at arts space GCADD.  They include images of chemical mounds, windswept brush, and industrial buildings. Vogler said the multimedia project could inspire people to visit important forgotten spots just across the river from St. Louis

“Really the intention of this space in particular is to reorient people back into that landscape,” Vogler said. “This set of photographs is not the art project, this set of photographs is just an invitation to the landscape that’s out there.”

The next and final “At the Edge of Everything Else” event will take place Dec. 6 at Blank Space.

A Shop and Save sign hovers in the background above rolling fields of grass.
Credit Provided by Jennifer Colten
Colten's photographs document the landscape in the geographic area on the east side of the Mississippi River known as the American Bottom.

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold