A woman holding a bowl and wearing robes and a headcovering, lots of color behind her (video still from Duyst-Akpem work)
A still from Holographic High Priestess by D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, on view at Blanc Gallery. Credit: D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Hilary Higgins, and C. Alex Clark

The fall art season has been underway since the beginning of September, but some Chicago art lovers have been waiting for a recent tradition to kick off to mark the start of their autumnal art appreciation. This year marks the fifth iteration of the Terrain Biennial, a (mostly) outdoor and multisite exhibition of artist projects and works. The first edition was produced in 2013 by artist and educator Sabina Ott and her husband John Paulett, who had been using the moniker Terrain Exhibitions for public art installations in their Oak Park front lawn since 2011. Ott, a professor at Columbia College Chicago since 2005, asked neighbors, friends, and artists from her networks to join in and host art and installations at their homes, and the biennial eventually grew to include international collaborations and public art sites in multiple cities.

Unfortunately, Ott passed away in 2018 after a nearly four-year battle with cancer, but the biennial tradition continued on in 2019, fostered by many of the enthusiastic participants. The 2019 edition featured multiple tributes to Ott from former students and collaborators, and Terrain’s organizers continue to champion art accessible to the public in untraditional spaces. This year’s biennial theme is “K.I.T. (keep in touch),” and participants were encouraged to consider their art’s place in facilitating connection and community in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent events. The festival runs from October 2 through November 15, and while an interactive map of biennial locations on Terrain’s website includes spots in Chicago, Des Plaines, Cicero, and Berwyn, there are also biennial events and exhibitions planned for sites as far away as India and Austria.   

-scape, an Installation on an Oak Park lawn for the 2019 Terrain Biennial by Marina Peng and Rachel Youn. Credit: Tom Burtonwood/Terrain Exhibitions

An opening event and block party is scheduled closer to home, at the Anthony Overton Elementary School building and grounds on East 49th Street on Saturday, October 2. The program will include artist activations, performances, and music, and feature work from Alberto Aguilar, Duncan MacKenzie, AJ McClenon, and others from 1 to 5 PM. 

Terrain Biennial, Sat 10/2 through Mon 11/15; full list of artist projects and an interactive map are available at terrainexhibitions.org.