Our Reactions

An Archive of Action

Advanced Curatorial Practice: Fall 2020

The intellectual project that would eventually take shape as Start a Reaction began in the classrooms of SAIC during fall 2020. Twelve graduate students enrolled in Mary Jane Jacob’s seminar, Advanced Curatorial Practice, learned how curators and artists have engaged in exhibition-making as cooperative venture, introducing them to genres and modes of hybrid roles to create new projects that reinterpret histories and collections; extend into public programs and community actions; and challenge assumptions, institutional barriers, and professional boundaries as they bring to bear what needs to come to light now. Over fifteen weeks of intensive study, the past, present, and potential future of the curatorial field was established through conversations with Jacob and other leading curators and artists, including Pedro Reyes and Fred Wilson.

Visiting Artists and Curators:
Viviana Checchia, Glasgow and Göteborg
Lisa Corrin, Chicago
Pedro Reyes, Mexico City
Merete Røstad, Oslo
Fred Wilson, New York

Imagining the Invisible: Spring 2021

A small group from Advanced Curatorial Practice, joined by other curatorial students and a studio class taught by Allan Labb, continued on to study with Jacob in her spring 2021 seminar, Imagining the Invisible. Imagining the Invisible sought to contend with the uncertain threats to our collective future — climate change, social inequality, COVID-19, and more — by proposing ways to look at these invisible yet actual realities of our world and engage the public. This investigation was set against the backdrop of the contemporary history of artists’ political actions.

Among these threats, the issue of nuclear warfare has been relegated to a bygone age — yet just this year (on January 23, 2020) the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago set the Doomsday Clock at 100 Seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to apocalypse. Pedro Reyes and Pedro Alonzo had recently been commissioned by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to reassert the need for nuclear disarmament into the public narrative. Responding to the successful exhibition of Amnesia Atomica, a large-scale, inflatable mushroom cloud commissioned from Pedro Reyes and Pedro Alonzo by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the SAIC cohort began asking what could we, as curators, as artists and arts workers, do about the threat?

Visiting Artists and Curators:
Moe Beitiks, Florida
Eiko Otake, New York
Katie Paterson, Glasgow
Pedro Reyes, Mexico City
Federica Thiene, Venice

Convening with Experts

Drawing on an extensive brain trust of cultural critics and nuclear activists, this project was informed along every step of the way through generative conversations with experts from across social, political, and artistic landscapes.

Visiting Scientists and Nuclear Experts:
Francesca Giovannini, Managing the Atom, Harvard University
Cindy Kelly, President and Founder, Atomic Heritage Foundation
Hirokazu Miyazaki, Professor of Anthropology, Northwestern University
Michael Peshkin, Professor Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University
Stephen Schwartz, Senior Fellow, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Project Leaders:
Mary Jane Jacob, Director, Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, SAIC
Rachel Bronson, President and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Paul Coffey, Vice Provost and Dean of Community Engagement, SAIC
Alan Labb, Professor, artist and Associate Professor, Photography, SAIC
Pedro Alonzo, curator and Senior Fellow, Institute for Curatorial Research and Practic

Establishing Values & Aims

In June 2021, SAIC faculty, curators, and seven specially chosen graduate fellows began to hold regular weekly meetings to discuss how the arts could be leveraged in the fight for a future free of nuclear arms. In formulating our collective reaction to this issue, a crucial first step was to establish the values and aims that would serve to both unify the narrative and, hopefully, galvanize public support around this crucial issue. The name Start a Reaction was chosen both for its association with the historical setting of the Chicago Pile-1 site, as well as our desire to challenge the dominant ideology that nuclear arms were a necessary facet of international diplomacy.

Network Building

Network building chart

The project’s communications team, led by Sofía Sánchez Borboa and Robert Pierce, was essential in building a critical mass of stakeholders around Start a Reaction. Over the course of six weeks leading up to the August 7th action, Borboa, Pierce and others worked tirelessly to forge relationships and connect a vast network of nonprofits, media organizations, activists, and artists. These conversations provided invaluable insight into the global ecology of the nonproliferation debate, not only contextualizing our project but also illuminating the vast, almost incomprehensible scope of the threat and the true number of lives affected.

August 7th Action

Our Reactions

The August 7th action at the original site of Chicago Pile-1 acted as a meeting place for nonproliferation activists, artists, and the public. The event featured a commissioned performance by Eiko Otake as well as interactive, site-specific AR engagements by Judd Morrissey and Taylor Shuck, in collaboration with Abraham Avnisan. Further contextualizing the project was an Instagram-based AR artwork by Maysam Al-Ani and a photographic suite by Hugo Juarez reinterpreting the work of Henry Moore.