The Compound Yellow Manual of Prompts, Provocations, Permissions & Parameters for Everyday Practices

The story of The Compound Yellow Manual of Prompts, Provocations, Permissions & Parameters for Everyday Practices starts like other things that occur at Oak Park’s Compound Yellow. 

Compound Yellow, an experimental art space in front of Pete’s Market, is the home of the artist Laura Shaeffer and her family. You may have driven past it and wondered what it is. After all, it radiates like a sun and not just because of its yellow exterior. Yes, it’s a private home, but on many days the buildings on this property bustle with visitors in its multiple galleries and its classroom that doubles as an occasional concert venue. Frequently the lawn and patio are used for sculpture projects, public signage, performances, or other art-like or informal education events. Hundreds of collaborators have come to those spaces to enact both short and long-term projects. Inevitably these creative interventions transport Shaeffer and her family’s private world into a more public realm, making them both increasingly permeable. Art and life blur, not merely for the sake of esotericism, but to consistently make people’s lives better.   

At Compound Yellow things are imagined, talked about, and then brought to life. The Manual is a day’s fantasy made into a reality through a “yes, and” attitude. Compound Yellow is featured in the Hyde Park Art Center’s Artists Run Chicago 2.0, a citywide showcase of fifty different artists-operated galleries and experimental spaces. We made the book to include as many of Compound Yellow’s collaborators in that showcase. Originally, we had little time to make the book, since the show opened in April and we got the idea in late February. Sixty-plus artists, writers, activists, teachers, gardeners, cooks, designers, scholars affiliated with Compound Yellow sent us photographs, diagrams, recipes, essays, poems, drawings, proposals, collages, coloring pages, and manifestos.

And then everything closed down. 

The Coronavirus hit like a swampy, surreal dream. Everything was so confusing. We quickly found out that the Hyde Park Art Center was suspending all of its in-person programing. How to do it then? At the core of Compound Yellow’s mission is proximity of physical bodies, people being near each other—sometimes for hours on end. Something emerged from everyone being in quarantine; now everyone, no matter where we were in the world, were indoors and available to formulate, create and write on our computers. So, we made the book together via the Internet, together even though apart.

The book functions as a type of “cookbook” for a DIY artistic practice that could be enacted by anyone regardless of artistic pedigree, age or knowledge of the authors (of Compound Yellow!). Any reader can pick up the book and use it in a variety of ways. You can read it or look at the pictures. You can be inspired to have a creative response by the multiple entries in the book. You can follow the directions of some of the art recipes or projects peppered throughout the book. You can try to interpret what you’re looking at if the entry is either too philosophical or too conceptual. The book is an artwork.  

The Manual is also an invitation. The book is meant to make you want to be a part of it. Compound Yellow is not just the artist-run space off Lake Street in Oak Park. It is an idea of how individuals can enact communities of learning and care for the mutual benefit of everyone in its proximity. You don’t need to have the manual to take the chances that Compound Yellow takes. You don’t even need to go there. You only need to realize that being a neighbor, a citizen, a friend or a family is a pliable artistic material. Once you get used to how it “moves,” you can really begin to express yourself through it. 

“The Compound Yellow Manual of Prompts, Provocations, Permissions, and Parameters for Everyday Practices,” is edited by Jorge Lucero, artist and associate professor of art education, School of Art + Design, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Laura Shaeffer. The book can be ordered or previewed here: compoundyellow.com/#/compound-yellow-manual. 

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