CHICAGO — For two days in a row this past weekend, I boarded the train to Forest Park at the Damen Blue Line station. This was unusual for me, as I’m not a regular commuter — I mostly write from my home office or at one of a few coffee shops. Dragging my feet up the snow- and dirt-muddied stairs, I looked up to see flowers — actually collages of images of flowers, cacti, and other foliage. They were, I soon learned, created by artist Stephen Eichhorn. There may not be a lot of light at the end of the blue line tunnel, but at least there are flowers along the way.
Artist-run gallery Johalla Projects is behind this “Adopt-a-Station” art at the Damen Blue Line. Funded by Chicago’s Special Service Area Program’s Art Committee, the project takes leftover money from the budget and uses that to fund rotating installations. It officially began in 2011 and has thus far shown artists Ian J. Whitmore, Heather Gabel, and now Stephen Eichhorn; works are on display for a period of about six months each.
Art-ing up the Damen Blue Line station is a natural outgrowth of Johalla Projects, which was established in 2009 by Anna Cerniglia and is currently run by her and Tyler Blackwell. The gallery often works on public art installations in the urban landscape; their Urban Dwellers project placed glittery deer in a vacant lot. They also partnered with the street art–focused Fountain Art Fair this past fall.
My first encounter with the Damen Blue Line Art Project came via Ian J. Whitmore’s Nowhere project, which was shown both at the station and at Johalla’s space in the West Town neighborhood. Whitmore’s photographs explored the nature of spaces that, like the Damen Blue Line stop, are portals that people move through regularly; becoming routine and redundant, they lose all meaning that doesn’t refer directly to their overt functionality.
That was in November 2012; my most recent encounter with Damen Blue Line station art took place approximately one year later. And like the journey I embarked on from there, it refreshed me.
Stephen Eichhorn’s The Climb/Reality involves lots and lots of flowers, which are exactly what we don’t see around Chicago during these cold winter months. Collaged constructions of images of foliage are arranged in organic, mostly circular shapes, and placed on top of neon or cement-colored backgrounds. These could be new, hybrid forms of futuristic flowers, or they might just be a dash of color on a white-gray winter day. They’re enough to make you stop and smell the rose-scented perfume you have on as you pass through a nowhere station en route to somewhere.