Grantee Project: Redemptive Plastics

Artists: Alt_Chicago, in partnership with Happy Returns
Art Type: Functional Art
Grant Amount: $65,000

Redemptive Plastics

Austin is the largest community in Chicago, yet the narrative surrounding the community is often one of violence, crime, and disinvestment. One obvious signifier of disinvestment is accumulated trash, most commonly plastic. 

Communal assets, such as benches made from discarded plastic in the neighborhood, will be created and placed in the Austin community. Workshops will be held to recruit and train community residents who will be hired to collect, sort, wash and break down the plastic to reform into a functional art object.

The first sign of disinvestment is often visible in the form of trash,” said Dr. Curry Greene, COO of Alt_Chicago. “Redemptive Plastics endeavors to invest in our communities by using what has been discarded as a tool for teaching. Through this process we will reclaim what has been discarded and create community assets. Plastics as public seating is just the beginning. With this redemptive practice we hope to provide a system for generations to come.”

Jordan Campbell (alt_co-founder) A documentary photographer and arts educator whose social practice is rooted in advocacy for political and economic transformation within marginalized communities. Through his teaching artist roles and community activism, Campbell created a pedagogy of reform based in artistic expression. As a teacher at Austin Career Academy in Chicago, Campbell used his camera as a tool to give voice to people in need. Campbell serves as a member of The Chicago Avenue Corridor Improvement Study Team in partnership with Lamar Johnson Collaborative and The Chicago Department of Transportation.

In 2019, Campbell and Jon Veal founded Alt Space Chicago. alt_ was a culmination of their shared  understanding of the current separation between art, faith and community and their belief that artists could traverse all three. For alt_ there is no separation; and through this belief they seek to revitalize the cultures of Chicago through creative tangible acts of service. 

Since this merger alt_ has combatted food apartheid, through alt_Market, changed the narrative of Austin through Project Stamp, mobilized volunteers through Sunday Service while serving as an deterrent for violence, created environmental advancements for the communities through alt_[] and passed the torch through transformative pedagogy in the C.L.A.Y program.

Jon Veal (alt_co-founder) has forged a collaborative transdisciplinary practice that is informed by relationships, meaning that the community and spaces that he resides in often dictate the work and what form it takes. To understand one part is to understand all parts. Primarily focused on the capacity of symbolic gesture as a means of strategy, he uses his artistic agency as a platform for building communal spaces.

Veal has exhibited at Chicago Artist Department, Silent Funny, William Hill Gallery, Homewood Science Center, Chicago Cultural Ball, Kiss the Brain Gallery, Catich Gallery at St. Ambrose University and the Terrain Biennial representing Austin, Chicago.

Veal was the first African American Artist in Residence at Oak Park Public Library. In 2019 Jon also held the Field/Work Artist in Residence at Chicago Artist Coalition. In 2020 he became a recipient of the 3Arts “Make A Wave” grant along with receiving the Spark grant from the Chicago Artist Coalition which is in recognition of exceptional artists working in Chicago.

2021 Jon was invited to join the Resource Global Chicago Cohort in addition to being the 2021 Spring Latham Fellow at IIT institute of Design. Veal serves on the auxiliary Board of Directors for The Design Museum of Chicago and on the Chicago Avenue Corridor Improvement Study Team in partnership with Lamar Johnson Collaborative and The Chicago Department of Transportation.

Tom Burtonwood (Happy Returns co-founder) is a Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist, curator and educator and Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where they teach in the Departments of Contemporary Practices, Sculpture and Designed Objects. Through a range of media Burtonwood explores systems, structures and ways of seeing. He/they hold an MFA from Southern Illinois University (USA) and a BA from Loughborough College of Art (UK).

In addition to their academic work they have extensive experience in the non profit arts sector as Managing Editor and Director of Operations at Bridge Magazine / Bridge Art Fair respectively. Burtonwood is President of the board of Terrain Exhibitions, an Oak Park based not for profit arts organization that makes private space public through sculpture, installation, performance and interventions.

They have exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Recent local venues presenting Burtonwood’s work include Bert Green Fine Art, Chicago, IL; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL; Dock 6, Chicago, IL; Platform, Evanston; Riverside Art Center, Riverside, IL; DEMO Project, Springfield, IL; Terrain Biennial 2017, Oak Park, IL.

Burtonwood is co-director of Happy Returns, a creative studio located in the Austin community of Chicago. Happy Returns folds industrial processes into creative computing and robotics to produce a range of outcomes for the community. Clients include the Michael Reese Health Trust and the Hyde Park Art Center.

Cody Norman (Happy Returns co-founder) is a Chicago-based artist, designer, and educator. He currently serves as part-time faculty in the Sculpture and Designed Objects departments at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He graduated with a BFA from SAIC in 2016 and earned an MFA in 3D Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2020. Norman works with both digital and analog fabrication processes to transform recycled and bio plastics into functional art objects.

Norman’s forms are inspired by biomimicry and sustainability. He designs, builds, and creatively misuses his own tools, such as the handheld plastic extrusion gun, which melts recycled plastic into improvisational organic forms. Norman uses a KUKA industrial robot, formerly a tool of mass production, to create one of a kind objects in unique ways.  His objects resemble nature but have a chaotic and unpredictable materiality, as well as an element of function alluding to the “usefulness” of plastic objects.

In addition to his solo studio practice, Norman is co-director of the creative studio Happy Returns with his studiomate Tom Burtonwood. Happy Returns weaves together research interests in robotics, materials, and digital imaging to produce a range of outcomes for commercial clients and art projects alike.

He has shown at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) – NYC, Interior Design Show (IDS) – Toronto, and Wasserman Projects – Detroit. His upcoming installation at Chicago Botanic Garden will be his largest work to date.