PEORIA — Jennifer Mannebach’s artwork explores the spaces between places and things, so the front porch of Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum is the perfect gallery for the collaborative work she created with Playhouse visitors in mid-July.
“The porch is the border between outside and inside,” said Mannebach while pausing from her work at the Playhouse on July 26. “It’s what made the big idea so appealing. Even the little kids who don’t grasp the nuances of the concept will get that.”
Mannebach is this summer’s artist-in-residence at the Playhouse. She lives in Oak Park and has exhibited in multiple locations in the U.S. and overseas. Mannebach earned her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also taught for six years. Today she works as an art facilitator at Little City Foundation and is an artist and researcher with CAPE in the Chicago area.
Mannebach spent six days in Peoria working on “In Between.” On the final day of her residency, she and her assistant Cailyn Talamonti hung the finished pieces above the Playhouse entrance as parents and children walked by. Colorful swirls of painted plastic invited them to examine more closely the doodles and messages children had written on the plastic strips.
“Successful art leads you to have some curiosity. You say ‘what is that?’ and then you engage with it further. Hopefully it draws you in to explore it further,” said Mannebach, who had never been to Peoria before Playhouse director Rebecca Shulman Herz asked her to do the project.
Mannebach knew she would be working with all age groups so she designed a project everyone could get something out of. Each child brought their own sensibility by choosing their own colors and designs, giving them a sense of ownership as well as something to show family and friends during subsequent visits to the playhouse.
“In Between” is made from recycled plastic bands originally used by a Chicago business in the production of granite countertops. Mannebach brought more than a car load down to Peoria for the project.
“They use them to create measurements and then they just discard it, and there’s so much of it,” said Mannebach, whose husband discovered the materials while visiting the business about three years ago. He knew his wife would find a creative use for it.
“I look for things I can get for free for big projects,” she said. “And I liked its structural integrity. If you bundle it, it naturally becomes very sculptural. The forms reminded me of gesture drawings, and I found that very interesting.”
Children painted the strips with acrylic paint and oil pastels. The big pastel crayons were so inspiring to Lillina Bear, 4, she also painted her toes. Lilliana came from Lincoln with her sister, Kestanya, 20-months, and mother, Stephanie.
“Little kids just want to paint, but we are also having conversations about the theme,” said Mannebach. “I thought a lot about how to manage this project without asserting my own will on it. It is collaborative, but I also want the kids to learn something.”
The older children are better able to grasp some of the more complex themes in Mannebach’s work, which she describes in her artist statement:
“My recent work explores the boundaries and architecture around, between and within people. Inspired by city maps, honeybee navigation charts and human genome maps, references also extend into tracking methods of larger group identities, conflating the boundaries of the body with geographic boundaries, underscoring the inauthenticity of maps that can never tell a complete story and the reduction of an individual to a genetic map.”
Some of the children who participated in “In Between” also visited Mannebach’s show at the Peoria Art Guild. “Shear - Shift - Slide” will be on display at the guild through August 16.
“In Between” will stay up on the Playhouse porch as long as it holds up to the elements, said Mannebach.
“I put a little bit of a protective sealant on it, so unless there are wild storms with horizontal winds, or vandals, it’s fairly sturdy and should be up for quite a while.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.