Amina Ross creates ideal space

Amina Ross in the new studio at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park, 301 E. Garfield Ave. (Photos by Aaron Gettinger)

Part of a series on CSRPC artists-in-residence

Staff Writer

Some people, faced with the difficulties and inhumanity of the day-to-day world, turn inward for comfort.

Amina Ross, a new year-long artist-in-residence with the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture (CSPRC), is making art that not only shares an interior vision with the world but invites the world into it.

“I work across mediums,” said the New York City native, 25, who relocated to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). “What I’ve been using to kind of create a framework for thinking about my work has been a lot of world-building — what it is to collectively define spaces with people, whether that’s through workshop series or shaping space in the digital realm.”

Lately, Ross has been doing a lot of 3-D animation.

“Daisy Chain,” Ross’ show last fall at the Prairie art gallery in Pilsen, was about “thinking about the interpersonal as a site for political change and a way to experiment with reciprocity and just forms of power. So really looking at the interpersonal, one-on-one connection as a place to model those things and then from there reverberate outwards.”

Ross said this work is because it focused on a desire to “access shaping a more just world.” Teaching at the Hyde Park Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art and SAIC, Ross said many of the students were immediately resigned to and unsurprised by Donald Trump being elected president two years ago.

Ross called the students’ reaction “frightening” but understandable in light of the overwhelming challenges facing the contemporary world. “Racism isn’t new,” Ross said. “Homophobia is not new. It’s not fully surprising; it’s just being shown to us in newer ways.”

“The thought of changing the whole world may feel out of the scope of possibility, but if I can, in our interaction, model a basically just relationship — I’m not going to speak over you; I’m going to listen to you; I’m going to greet you with respect; I’m open to exchange and reciprocity here:  to be able to do that on a one-on-one level — then maybe I’m able to do that in my classroom; maybe I’m able to do that in my school; maybe I’m able to do that on my block.”

A black, queer, gender-nonconforming person, Ross avoids being “responsive” in art.

“I think responding to something always puts me in relation to that,” Ross said. “So, if I’m responding to whiteness or responding to Trump, I’m basically not able to inhabit my agency as a creative force.”

“The way that I’ve been describing things lately is that I shape environments in my exhibitions, and although the objects read together as specific environments, I’m really interested in them being autonomous, independent works as well,” Ross said. The show at Prairie incorporated ceramics, quilt, 3-D, video and, reflective of the interest in self-publishing, zines.

In the 3-D video loop entitled “from the center of my earth-body / that’s where i love you / from,” Ross said a viewer “peers into a world outside the one we live in now.”

It is not rendered hyper-realistically, but it clearly shows a room with lighting. Ross incorporated visuals of things from their own domestic space into the piece. “Within this technology, I can literally set up a world,” Ross said. “I can set up the way gravity works. I can set up the weight of objects. Beyond the way they look, they all have physical properties.”

“A lot of my work draws on vocabularies that are familiar but presenting them in ways that are unfamiliar — to do a lot of things, but to ask us to look closer at things that otherwise are pretty unextraordinary,” Ross said, adding that taking a bath after a long day can be “transformational and elevating, although it’s something as simple as water in a tub.”

“Rather than just saying that” about the tub, Ross said, “I devote hours and hours to rendering an invisible tub that can perpetually bathe two figures in a way I would never be able to do in real life, but I’m able to do it in this imagined universe and this program.”

Over the year as an artist-in-residence, Ross hopes to have a small group of community members and students keep dream journals and to teach dream analysis workshops, exploring “dreams as art” and “dreams as a way of knowing.”

“I think that allowing space for people who are most system-impacted to dream is really important,” Ross said. From there, Ross hopes to utilize symbols that arise from dreams and the group’s conversations “to shape experimental video games that can be virtual video games that can be virtual environments that are navigated by a larger public.”

Ross recently relocated to Hyde Park for the residency. “It’s really quiet in a good way,” Ross said. “I think there’s space to think and to explore.”