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The Ground in Flux: Brendan Fernandes and SOIL Lab

Join contemporary artist Brendan Fernandes; Soil Lab members Anne Dorthe and James Albert Martin; with 72 Seasons performer Michelle Reid for a conversation moderated by Stephanie Cristello on two recent commissions in Chicago that address how nature, architecture, and body intersect.

Brendan Fernandes’ 72 Seasons, a public artwork and installation within Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, engages with ballet history to envision passages of time demarcated by the Japanese calendar. Rethinking humans’ relationship to nature within the context of Chicago’s prairie landscape, the series of three performances (August 21, September 25, and October 23, 2021) brings together a group of dancers in acts of utilitarian choreography whose score is informed by practices of tending, foraging, and propagating in an effort to bring attention to sustainability through art.

SOIL Lab is inspired by the work of Jens Jensen—a Danish-American landscape architect whose work can be seen throughout several of Chicago’s major parks—who believed in the importance of reconnecting with oneself and one’s community through engaging with nature and natural materials. For the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial, The Available City, SOIL Lab builds upon an ongoing process of repurposing vacant lots into community assets across Chicago and in North Lawndale, inviting participants to engage in the process of creating bricks and consider the materiality of spaces we occupy. 

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Brendan Fernandes (b. 1979, Nairobi, Kenya) is an internationally recognized Canadian artist working at the intersection of dance and visual arts. Currently based out of Chicago, Brendan’s projects address issues of race, queer culture, migration, protest and other forms of collective movement. Always looking to create new spaces and new forms of agency, Brendan’s projects take on hybrid forms: part Ballet, part queer dance hall, part political protest...always rooted in collaboration and fostering solidarity. Brendan is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program (2007) and a recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Fellowship (2014). In 2010, he was shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award, and is the recipient of a prestigious 2017 Canada Council New Chapters grant. Brendan is also the recipient of the Artadia Award (2019), a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (2020) and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant (2019). His projects have shown at the 2019 Whitney Biennial (New York); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York); the Museum of Modern Art (New York); The Getty Museum (Los Angeles); the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa); MAC (Montreal); among a great many others. He is currently artist-in-residency and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University and represented by Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago.

Throughout her work, whether small or large scale, architect Anne Dorthe Vester's projects are based on the study of materials and the processing of these. The craft in itself is central to her understanding of materials. She is also part of the duo MBADV that works with objects in the cross-field between art, architecture, and design. MBADV is a collaboration with furniture designer Maria Bruun. Anne Dorthe Vester holds a MA from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, and a BA from Aarhus School of Architecture. Additionally, she has taken courses in joinery at KTS (Copenhagen technical college) and at Capellagården - school for craft and design.

James Albert Martin is a registered architect with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and Grade 3 Accredited in Architectural Conservation. He has taught at The Aarhus School of Architecture and at University College Dublin where he is currently a Design Fellow. James is interested in the act of making, and his work is informed by this collaborative act. James holds a MA from The Aarhus School of Architecture and has also undertaken courses in joinery at Capellagården - a school for craft and design. Since graduating he has worked with international studios; Sou Fujimoto Architects, Herzog & de Meuron, and Grafton Architects. In 2018, James, Eibhlín, and Anne Dorte participated in REFORM Design Biennale with their collaboration Woven Construct, a seat, a screen, space, which they constructed in the garden of Munkeruphus, north of Copenhagen.

Michelle Reid (b. Oakland, California 1990) is a professional photographer, dancer and aerial silks artist. After completing her BFA of Fine Arts in Dance from The Ohio State University in 2013, Michelle moved to Chicago to pursue a professional career in the arts. Since then Michelle has danced with Joel Hall Dancers, Aerial Dance Chicago, Lyric Opera Chicago, Banks Performance Project, and Winifred Haun and Dancers. Michelle received her aerial training and performance opportunities while dancing with Aerial Dance Chicago for three seasons. Michelle then went on to become a fitness instructor for AIR fitness. She has also performed as a freelance aerial artist in several venues in the Chicagoland area. When Michelle isn't dancing or training on silks she’s spending most of her time photographing portraits for clients. She has photographed for numerous companies in the city including Deeply Rooted Productions, Ruth Page Center For The Arts, Visceral Dance Chicago and has traveled to Tennessee in 2021 to photograph for Satellite Dance. Her work has been featured in Dance Magazine, Chicago Tribune, CS Magazine, LA Splash, and most recently published work for Esti Magazine. 

Stephanie Cristello (Canadian b. 1991) is a contemporary art critic, curator, and author based in Chicago, IL. She was previously the Senior Editor US for ArtSlant (2012–2018) and founding Editor-in-Chief of THE SEEN, Chicago’s International Journal of Contemporary & Modern Art. Her writing has been published in ArtReview, BOMB Magazine, Elephant Magazine, Frieze Magazine, Mousse Magazine, OSMOS, and Portable Gray, published by the University of Chicago Press, in addition to numerous exhibition catalogues nationally and internationally. She graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013 with a Liberal Arts Thesis in Visual Critical Studies. She served as the Artistic Director of EXPO CHICAGO (2013–2020) and is currently the Director / Curator at Chicago Manual Style. In 2020–21, she was a Curatorial Advisor to the 2020 Busan Biennale (South Korea) as well as a Guest Curator at Kunsthal Aarhus (Denmark) and the Malmö Art Museum (Sweden). She is the author of Theodora Allen: Saturnine (Motto / Kunsthal Aarhus, 2021) and the forthcoming book Barbara Kasten: Architecture and Film 2015–2020 (Skira, 2022) in partnership with the Graham Foundation.

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Chicago Architecture Biennial's InDialogue Series is supported by Hindman Auctions.

Hindman, an internationally recognized fine art auction house, offers its clients an unyielding focus on service and holistic solutions to connect to the global art market. Hindman conducts over 100 auctions annually in 52 collecting categories such as fine art, jewelry, modern design, books and manuscripts, furniture, native American art, decorative arts, antiquities, couture, and Asian works of art. Founded and headquartered in Chicago, Hindman is now represented in 13 cities in the United States and operates five salerooms, more than any other auction house in the country. 

Brendan Fernandes, 72 Seasons, Lurie Garden 2021. Dancers: Katlin Bourgeois, Brian Martinez, Michelle Reid, Kara Hunsinger, Meghann Wilkinson. Photo: Dabin Ahn. Curated by Ellen Hartwell Alderman and Stephanie Cristello.