They used to be the “go to” source for term papers and settling arguments, but in the digital age, the multi-volume encyclopedia sets that once graced the bookshelves in so many American living rooms have been Googled into obsolescence.
To Chicago artist Jason Pallas, though, an encyclopedia retains relevance as a kind of time capsule. For the past year he’s been using the once-ubiquitous tomes in creating and exhibiting art that challenges people to think about what makes an information source “authoritative” and how technology has affected our relationship with knowledge.
Photos from the opening for Jason Pallas’ exhibit at Dittmar Memorial Gallery.
2nd from top: Jason Pallas
To frame this ongoing project, Pallas founded the Institute for Encyclopedic Amalgamation (IEA), which he describes as “a repository and sanctuary for abandoned encyclopedia sets,” and has embarked on a series of exhibits. His current solo show is running through December 10 at the Dittmar Memorial Gallery on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Previous exhibitions in his IEA series were at Columbia College and the Hyde Park Arts Center in Chicago.
Along with his art-making, Pallas is active as a teacher. Now in his third year as Adjunct Faculty in the Arts with the ACM Chicago Program, Pallas mentors students on their Independent Study Projects (ISP). Over the course of the semester, he leads them in group meetings, field trips, and exercises focused on the creative process and individually guides students as they develop and complete substantial creative projects of their own design.
Pallas’ educational background includes an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Chicago and study in film production at New York University. He’s worked with teens in a variety of venues and currently leads the Teen Creative Agency at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. His art ranges across media and frequently has involved collaborations with other artists, writers, students, and community members.
“One of the things I’ve been thinking through for years, is how to get people to interact in art space,” said Pallas. For the installation at the Dittmar Gallery, he placed 24 sets of encyclopedias, grouped by volumes rather than as sets, in a living room type of setting. Visitors are invited to hang out and browse the books. A copier is available for people to copy pages they find thought-provoking or noteworthy, write comments, and post the copies on the wall. Pallas is collecting those visitor-generated pages for a book he will assemble when the exhibit closes.
“There’s an idea that you’re supposed to stand back from the art, stroke your beard, and sort of try to understand what’s going on,” Pallas noted, “so people don’t want to touch. What has been so nice about this show, at least from the opening [on October 25] and what I’ve heard from the curator, is that it’s intuitive that that’s what you’re supposed to do. So people have really taken ownership of [the exhibit]. At the opening, a few people found ways to make collages with the copier by putting different books and layering things. We’re getting some really interesting works of art being created in the exhibition.”
According to Pallas, the exhibit has succeeded in engaging people with topics they might not otherwise address. “I don’t think a lot of people have [thought about encyclopedias recently], but one of the nice things about putting this exhibit up is that everyone has a unique perspective,” he said. “People have anecdotal experiences with encyclopedias or come at it more conceptually – what is an encyclopedia and how is it different from how we search for knowledge today – as a prism onto the past. It’s all really great.”
- Chicago Program: Arts, Entrepreneurship, & Urban Studies
- Jason Pallas’ bio and website (www.jthomaspallas.com)
- Photos from Jason Pallas’ exhibit opening on October 25 at Dittmar Memorial Gallery
- Institute for Encyclopedic Amalgamation