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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Explore Jackson Park’s Natural Beauty Through Dance And Visual Art On Wooded Island This Weekend

In Place: Drawing You Outside, a collaboration between dancer and Hyde Park resident Irene Hsiao and visual artist Christine Forni, is Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Irene Hsiao performs in the Garden of the Phoenix. Hsiao created performances that will take place on Wooded Island this weekend as part of the "In Place: Drawing You Outside" collaborative with visual artist Christine Forni.
Joerg Metzner
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HYDE PARK — Jackson Park visitors can create, observe and participate in visual art and dance this weekend as two South Side artists lead an afternoon of creativity on Wooded Island.

In Place: Drawing You Outside is a collaboration between Hyde Park-based dance artist Irene Hsiao and South Loop-based visual artist Christine Forni.

Attendees can create artworks using charcoal pressed from fallen sticks collected in Jackson Park as Forni leads a guided tour of Wooded Island’s trails.

With the creators’ permission, the pieces will be shown during an Oct. 16 open house at Mana Contemporary, 2233 S. Throop St., the Pilsen art center where Hsiao and Forni met.

Dancers and musicians will perform pieces created by Hsiao along the route, at Yoko Ono’s “Skylanding” installation and in the Garden of the Phoenix.

The sessions are 4-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and start at the southern entrance to Wooded Island near Hayes and Cornell drives. The program involves a 1-mile walk, and attendees in need of accommodations can email adatsai14@gmail.com.

People who join after 4 p.m. can take the Nancy C. Hays Bridge on the island’s north end to the Garden of the Phoenix, where a park staffer will be on hand to help.

To register for the free event, click here.

“Everyone who joins this performance is a performer in my view,” Hsiao said. “We’re all coming into this space to create something together.”

Credit: Provided
Christine Forni pressed dozens of charcoal sticks using fallen branches from around Wooded Island for attendees to create art during “In Place: Drawing You Outside.”

In Place: Drawing You Outside blends two existing projects led by Hsiao and Forni.

Hsiao, whose dance practice is “heavily inspired by visual art,” said her In Place project draws on her experience with the immersive installation “Passage” at Mana Contemporary last year.

Dancers Helen Lee, Amanda Maraist, Wannapa P-Eubanks, and Darling “Shear” Squire will join musicians Menghua Guan, olula negre and Scott Rubin for performances “that move through quite a large area” around the island this weekend, Hsiao said.

In Place: Drawing You Outside is a form of participatory art, so Hsiao hopes attendees are “moved to move with us” as the dancers and musicians perform, she said.

“Dancing to me is a slow form of observation — knowing a space, knowing others,” Hsiao said. “Ultimately, I’m inspired by seeing what happens when unexpected elements come together. I just hope that people have that experience as a community during this performance.”

Forni’s Drawing You Outside project is rooted in her work assisting painter Chloe Briggs on Drawing is Free, a series that encourages people to draw in and explore parks and gardens in Paris.

Forni’s project shares Briggs’ goal of promoting the accessibility of drawing, though Drawing You Outside was envisioned “more as an environmental project in the community,” Forni said.

“I decided I would investigate how the experience could be a bit more [about getting] people to come outside,” she said.

Together, the two artists will “activate” Wooded Island this weekend by encouraging neighbors to engage with and reflect on the scenery, they said.

It’s a particularly beloved setting for Hsiao, who “visited every day at the very beginning of the pandemic when everything was shut down,” she said. Her practice of walking and dancing outdoors in Jackson Park also led to the creation of a community art project through the Smart Museum of Art, which encouraged others to engage with place and create videos and artworks in response.

“The trails, I’ve walked [them] in every season,” Hsiao said. “I feel like I’ve watched every plant come up and decay. It is both familiar and unfamiliar ground to me, because it’s constantly changing, and whoever is in the space changes it.”

Though Forni isn’t as frequent a visitor, she has celebrated Wooded Island and other South Side natural areas, such as Big Marsh Park, that offer visitors the chance “to be in the city, but to be engulfed by nature,” she said.

Forni pressed dozens of charcoal sticks this week from branches around Wooded Island — a tool that will make obvious the connection between the park and its visitors as they draw, she said. Attendees will also receive a drawing board, paper and a gum eraser.

“I want them to feel an object that came from that area, and while they’re investigating nature, they’re expressing what they’re hearing, seeing, smelling, in a poetic way or drawing what they see,” Forni said.

Amid a pandemic that has driven many Chicagoans to lean on nature in the face of social isolation, In Place: Drawing You Outside will provide a opportunity to enjoy the park with others, the artists said.

“It’s about togetherness, it’s about breathing together, being together and the way that we can be in a public space together, ” Hsiao said.

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