Q: What is your mosnart project all about? (question recently asked by Neoteric Art magazine)

A: mosnart is transom spelled backward. A transom allows seeing from both sides, and the idea of art and community flowing back and forth across a threshold has always been central to the project. While each artist/installation/residency is considered individually, the transom above the front door is where most mosnart installations begin.

I moved my studio to Pullman in 2002 out of necessity, to escape a gentrifying West Loop location. Pullman was the perfect solution: an easy conversion of an original Pullman-plan worker’s two-flat into a live/work studio space; a Metra train that took me back and forth to the north side in 25 minutes; and affordability. The mortgage—for 1600 square feet of live/work space, plus a basement, two-car garage, and a backyard—was less than the rent for a traditional “studio only” space in Pilsen or Bridgeport. I would spend five days a week at the Pullman studio and then head back north on the weekends.

Located on the far south side of Chicago, the Pullman Historic District was built in the 1880s as sleeping-car industrialist George Pullman’s vision of a utopian town to house his employees. The task of designing the town was given to a young architect named Beman hired by Pullman. Hygiene, aesthetics, culture, and worship were all considered in the plan to raise “better workers” for Pullman’s “perfect town.” Of course, the patriarchal construct based on capital, labor, and social engineering was a spectacular failure. Through a series of historically significant events, the town that Pullman built was soon annexed by the city and the housing sold off to the public.

What did and didn’t work here are equally important.

What remains is an almost complete town within a city. The architectural footprint appears incredibly relevant to contemporary urban planning. The efficiency of small row houses in a walking-scale environment, with public buildings and large open areas all serving the community, creates a possibility of truly progressive and thoughtful urban living. It’s a possibility that carries the weight of both historic memory and contemporary doing. It’s also an interesting context for art.

In 2008 I moved completely into the space, no longer commuting to the north side on the weekends. A neighbor asked me, “Do you live here now?” I heard myself say, “Yes,” and with that yes a community obligation became manifest.

Once I found myself "living here", I wanted to participate somehow with the one thing I had to offer: art. I also had a strong desire to share Pullman with other artists. It is a truly remarkable place to work. I asked Gwen, a French artist, to come do an installation in the transom above the front door. She knew the space because we had swapped houses and studios the summer before. She agreed, and for the next few months created an incredible installation that not only transformed the transom, but the entire entryway, stairs, and the studio! It made perfect use of the mosnart/transom public/private elements. (Gwen's video)

Though the community’s attendance at the first opening was low, we went ahead and invited three more artists—Jens Brasch, Kate Ingold, and Carrie Iverson—to do three more installations that inaugural year. All were exceptional. By the end of that first year, it was obvious that this wasn’t a traditional gallery space, and each project/artist/installation had to be considered and nurtured individually.

Slowly the installations started to spill out from the mosnart transom into the Pullman community. Working with the many organizations (and individuals) here, the Hotel Florence porch played host to the sound piece “Now and Here” by Jenny Roberts. The grand dining room became the venue for Hudgens-Prize–winner Gyun Hur’s installation, "I Dreamed Your Utopia... ." The ruins of Market Square are currently the stage for Matthew Hoffman’s 32 ft. “Go For It” language sculpture. As artists interact with the architecture, history, and community more and more, we are building a unique mix of site-specific work and experimentation. (See some of the past and current exhibitions here)

When another building down the block became available, I moved my living space and working studio there. It then became possible to do more with the mosnart space. Longer artist residencies became possible, and by offering short-term rental of the upstairs apartment (check apartment availability) and rental of the studio space in-between art residencies (check studio availability), the building expenses for the mosnart project are close to being met without outside funding or having to interpret each possibility within the constraints and considerations of a 501c3 model.

As part of the answer to the question, I asked several of the participating artists: “What is the mosnart project about to you?”

Here are their responses:

“With mosnart, JB provides artists with the opportunity to generate experimental projects free of commercial considerations. In the current market-driven art scene, such opportunities are exceedingly rare, so it is a true joy to find one—and JB and mosnart are a treasure. Rather than take on the role of curator, JB acts as a facilitator—opening up his space, setting aside a period of time for the work to be shown, offering artists enthusiastic encouragement, and inviting the local and art community to view/participate in the work. With mosnart, JB creates a laboratory in which artists can test ideas, interact with a lively and fascinating neighborhood, and extend their artistic practice. Quite an amazing gift! And in the process of creating a venue for artists to realize projects, mosnart energizes, enlivens, and delights both the neighborhood of Pullman and Chicago itself.” —Jenny Roberts

“Mosnart is a special space physically requiring some adjustments of usual exhibition practices. It offers an opportunity to extend normal object­based work to include context. Established by the artist JB Daniel, Mosnart honestly encourages and supports innovative artistic inquiry. —Ben Dallas

“Mosnart is about giving artists the gift of possibility. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to daydream on a large scale and have it seriously considered. That openmindedness has enabled me to do both a site-specific exhibit within the Pullman factory building and a community iron pour on the factory grounds. JB used to have a business card which said ‘I think we can do that’ and for me that sums up mosnart perfectly—a genuine respect and interest in other artist’s ideas and a willingness to help guide them to fruition.” —Carrie Iverson

“Mosnart provides a chance to have an art conversation with the Pullman community. The transom window pieces make it possible for those on the outside to enter into that conversation. Mosnart is serious about art as a value to anyone who wishes to take part. It is not just for the art world but for anyone willing to engage.

“I also believe it respects artist and gives them the opportunity to create on-site installations and present their works the way they would wish it to be seen.

“Finally, I think mosnart is a creative act by JB Daniel that brings art out of the world of commerce and back into its role in creating community.” —Jens Brasch


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