John Preus, Stoop Culture, 2019 with video by Riar Rizaldi, Kasiterit, 2019. Photo: Tom Van Eynde, 2019

Stoop Culture

These stoops were built in an unofficial apprenticeship fashion, with studio assistance from Georgie Schaefer, with apprentices Kendall Hill, a recent high school graduate from Lane Tech, and Bienfait Ulumwene, a high school senior at Sullivan High. Much of the material comes from closed Chicago public schools, deconstructed in conjunction with the Sweetwater Foundation, and The Smart Museum where John Preus is currently Interpreter in Residence. 

“On the day after annihilation, the survivors will look for water to wash off the rubble and clean their ragged clothes. They will search for a means of cooking whatever edible thing they can scrounge up, for a means of organizing their things and repairing what is needed. 

Or conversely, in a world of exuberant opulence, where labor becomes almost obsolete by virtue of artificial intelligence, and subservient robots follow us around and pick up our crumbs, we will all retire to our stoops and watch the laboring robots going about their mundane tasks, remembering when we once had to work. 

Or maybe we will soon, having lost our global status as the economic and military giant, droned into the Stone Age by some more powerful tyrant, become the labor source to the rest of the world, where we will stand in immigration lines, seeking a living wage, and American neurologists will wash laundry for Chinese economists. 

The world is as uncertain a place as it has ever been. What sort of education is valuable? What do I teach my children? Toward what end should our labors be directed? I don’t know. But knowing how to repair things, to build things, to use tools, to transform matter to your wishes, seems as safe a bet as any. And the apprenticeship, as a means of passing on relevant skill sets in a subjective manner, its most persistent and long-standing form.”

I have taught in colleges and universities, and I have taught in my studio. They each have their value. But I prefer the apprenticeship in many ways since it often requires the development of a deeper relationship with the student in a real world context. I say, “do this,” and the student makes their mistakes, and knows what sort of questions to ask next. So I say, “try this,” and they try again with a bit of new information, and so on. And if they show interest, I say, “read this,” and their knowledge and interest grows organically from the bottom up. It begins with a foundation in the body, and grows exponentially as the mind is engaged in the process, while history and context take on relevance through the knowledge of a craft.”

John Preus, Stoop Culture, 2019. Photo: Tom Van Eynde, 2019


John Preus developed his multidisciplinary practice from roots in both painting and furniture-making, which became entwined in his collaborative work with Material Exchange in graduate school at the University of Chicago. They remain the predominant lenses through which to look at his work. Preus is also an amateur writer and musician, and has been a fabricator for other artists including Dan Peterman, Theaster Gates, and Omer Arbel. Preus co-founded SHoP with Laura Shaeffer (2011), and Material Exchange with Sara Black (2005), and collaborated with Theaster Gates on the Dorchester Projects, and was project lead for 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, at Documenta 13, the culmination of a six year collaboration with Gates.

Preus is Interpreter in Residence at the Smart Museum in 2019, and was recently a Kaplan resident at Northwestern University. He was a 2016 nominee for the US Artist Fellowship, and was included in New City’s Chicago Art 50 in 2016. He was the 2013-2014 Jackman-Goldwasser resident at the Hyde Park Art Center, a 2015 Propeller Fund recipient, a 2014 Efroymson Fellow in sculpture and installation, 2014’s first place winner of the Maker grant and a 2013 finalist. He was a finalist for the 2015 Artadia Award and the 2014 Creative Capital grant, and a 2014, 2016 DCASE artist grant recipient. Selected solo exhibitions include The Bride Stripped Bare, Even: Addenda to the Historical Record at Pentimenti gallery in 2018, The Beast: Herd Mentality at the Montserrat College of Art, (2018) John Preus: New Work at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco (2016), The Relative Appetite of Hungry Ghosts at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago (2016), John Preus On Drawing at the Heilbronn Kunstverein in Germany (2014), The Beast at The Hyde Park Art Center (2013), Slow Sound at the Experimental Sound Studio, (2013).

John Preus project credits:

Chicago Public Schools Apprentices: Kendall Hill, and Beinfait Ulumwene
John Preus’ Studio Assistant: Georgie Schaefer
Sweetwater Foundation for their help in deconstruction of Chicago Public Schools materials.
The Smart Museum of Art for their support of the project.

John Preus with apprentice Kendall Hill during studio visit and production for Re:Working Labor. Photo: Almudena Caso Burbano, 2019