Woman raises chickens as part of art exhibit

Lara Takenaga

Take two hens, a chicken coop and a backyard in the city, and you have the makings of one of Chicago-based artist Kim Jackson DeBord’s most recent installations.

“UNI chicken,” a version of which is currently on display at the Evanston Art Center, resulted from this art-turned-urban experiment.

“Half of the work was really about the action of researching chickens and then getting chickens and living with them, having no experience with them prior to that,” Jackson DeBord said.

The fibers artist works with a variety of media to create installations that make social commentaries.

Through “UNI chicken,” she said, she wanted to merge her studio world with her private world while conveying a message about modern life.

“It really is a critique of the industrialized aspect of our food supply and our food production,” said Vera Scekic, the co-curator of the exhibition displaying Jackson DeBord’s work at the center. “What she’s trying to do is make us more aware of the fact that we take it for granted where our food comes from.”

The installation shows a scale with eggs from Jackson DeBord’s hens on one side and the grain used to feed them on the other; a series of shelves on which carefully placed eggs stand precariously; and two videos – one of the chickens and one of Jackson DeBord and her husband interacting with them.

While Jackson DeBord said she usually does not work with video, she said “it was important to convey what happened in terms of the actions of living with the chickens.”

The artist said her daily routine became disrupted as the line between her personal and artistic lives blurred.

“They poop a lot, they eat a lot,” she said. “Every day you had to go out, clean up and feed them.”

Anne Wilson, one of Jackson DeBord’s graduate professors from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said she admired how the artist incorporated the project into her life.

“I really responded to her taking these kinds of issues into consideration into her own personal space,” she said.

Jackson DeBord said that extensive background work, like what she did with her hens for the piece, is an important part of her creative process.

“I spend a lot of time researching ideas and questions I might have and then a shorter period of time executing,” she said.

“The Ministries of Sustenance,” Jackson DeBord’s thesis project that used “UNI chicken” as a research base, is a series of fabric screenprints she made.

These “semi-propagandist” pieces “ride the line between posters and stitched embroidered samplers,” she said.

They focus on the subject of food sustainability and play into a theme that can be found in several of Jackson DeBord’s other works: the struggle between private and public life.

Currently, Jackson DeBord is researching her next project, which will be based on what she calls the “ideal lifestyle culture.”

As for the chickens, they’ve flown the coop. Jackson DeBord sold her two hens after she learned how to raise them and completed her project.

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