Packed within a 6,000-square-foot space on Chicago’s south side is a fictional universe teeming with pinned up newspaper clippings, towers of retro electronics, and tons of vintage advertising from McDonald’s to Vienna Hot Dogs. It’s the world of Hebru Brantley’s iconic characters, Lil Mama and Flyboy, whose enlarged head rests on the floor in one room of the immersive installation, titled Nevermore Park. Moving through the pathways lined with plastic toys and paint-spattered pallets, visitors pass a downed spaceship and a brick wall of street art, elements that structure Brantley’s narrative for the surreal environment.
The Los Angeles-based artist cites the tales of the superheroes and comic books he engaged with during his childhood living in Chicago as directly impacting his current projects. “I’m in love with creating and I have so many stories I want to tell,” he tells Colossal. “I want my work to create a narrative that hasn’t been told before, in ways others haven’t seen expressed. I’m working to create the things I wished existed.”
Although Brantley created many of the objects specifically for Nevermore Park, he also amassed thousands of pieces of real ephemera that create a strong undercurrent of Chicago’s history as expressed through pop culture, toys, magazines, and found objects. The periodicals lining the newsstand, for example, belonged to his grandmother. “She had saved a number of them and it created a unique opportunity for me to incorporate these real historical artifacts into my body of work for visitors to experience. Everything weaves together with the goal of staying authentic to the stories I wanted to tell,” he says.
Nevermore Park, though, is intended “to be a total sensory experience,” inspiring Brantley to collaborate with WILLS on the audio component, offering a soundtrack that he says visitors always ask about. “Bringing people into a space they wouldn’t normally occupy with sounds that are familiar, amplify the story and culture even more,” he writes. “Sight is an important aspect of the experience but so is the sound piped into each section.”
If you’re in Chicago, there are tickets available to visit Nevermore Park through May 3. Otherwise, head to Instagram to keep up with Brantley and see what’s next for Flyboy, Lil Mama, and Nevermore Park.
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