Historically tagged as merely “the city that made Chicago famous,” Lockport’s integral role in the economic development of the Midwest has been overshadowed by Chicago’s stature. unLOCK: Merging Art & Industry upends this narrative: not only reclaiming Lockport’s pivotal industrial contributions but also introducing itself as a cultural force in the region. Commissioning ten new artworks installed throughout the historic downtown, this summer-long art series reimagines Lockport’s heritage and entrepreneurial spirit.
Lockport prospered in the 19th Century as the headquarters of the Illinois & Michigan Canal which linked the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and granted the nation access to the region’s thriving agriculture and natural resources. At the close of the 19th Century, alternate trade routes replaced the I&M Canal and Lockport turned to oil refining as its primary industry. Through the economic ups and downs, Lockport’s history as a center of trade and industry continue to shape its identity today.
In many ways, the Gaylord Building—the administrating entity behind unLOCK—embodies the narrative of Lockport as a whole. The Gaylord Building is an institution with a storied past: the storehouse and hub of the nationwide transportation network flowing through Lockport; an abandoned relic fallen into disrepair; and now a national example of adaptive re-use that redefines how historic structures can preserve and interpret our past. The Gaylord Building leverages its unique industrial history and current role as a center for heritage to examine the intersection of art and industry through unLOCK.
Often positioned as opposites, for all of Art and Industry’s apparent differences, they both rest on the distinctly human propensity for manipulating raw material. Industry tackles material alteration on a mass scale—procuring, processing and fabricating natural resources into objects that populate and enable contemporary life. Intimately linked to capitalism and economic growth, Industry depends on an aggressively pragmatic ethos. On the other hand, Art wields material to serve critical, conceptual and aesthetic goals (largely) untethered to economic gains. Through unique objects and creative engagements, Art reflects society and human experience back onto itself in new, revealing ways. The artists merging these two disciplines in unLOCK has yielded a range of interpretations of both “Art” and “Industry.”
Through a dazzling array of strategies, the eleven artists participating in unLOCK unearth obscured histories embedded in Lockport’s landscape, architecture and collective memory. The full range of Art’s capabilities of interpretation and communication are represented in unLOCK—from traditional painting practices and community activism, to new media installations. These artists highlight the ways our nation’s industrial legacy continues to infiltrate and inform our everyday lives in unexpected ways both celebrating the monuments and boons it gifted us and exposing the scars and injustices left in its wake.
An essential component of unLOCK is how it integrates with the community and Lockport’s historic downtown. One might stumble upon unLOCK projects strolling down the canal, parking their car in a vacant lot, or while purchasing a glass of wine at a local bar. This exhibition format strives to ignite curiosity in unsuspecting viewers and propose art viewing as an everyday experience—challenging the notion that art is something precious that only lives on a museum’s pristine white walls. Instead, Art can be a dynamic, ongoing experience that shifts and grows as the community develops a relationship with it.
Each project, in its own way, demanded collaboration with members of the Lockport community. These collaborations shaped the artists’ understanding of their own projects, honing their understanding of Lockport’s history and expanding possibilities for programming such as lectures, workshops and performances. The Lockport community has eagerly welcomed unLOCK with all of its quirks and challenges. If the goal of unLOCK is to reimagine Lockport’s history while inspiring visions years to come, the community’s openness and optimism proposes a bright future.
About the Curator
Jared Packard (b. 1989, Washington, D.C.) is an artist and curator based in Chicago, IL. Packard completed his BA at Clark University and his MFA at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently curating unLOCK: Merging Art and Industry, Lockport, IL and has also curated the nationally traveling exhibition, ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection; and (Re)Flex Space, Sullivan Galleries, Chicago, IL. He has shown at Sullivan Galleries, Chicago, IL; Centre International d’Art Contemporain, Pont-Aven, France; Hillyer Art Space, Washington, D.C.; Shiltkamp Gallery, Worcester, MA.