Family View at The Family Room
The Post Family is a collective body of seven artists who share studio and exhibition space in Chicago. Their public statement of purpose - "Everything is for the growth of our family members and community by supplying them with the resources and inspiration to accomplish their individual goals" - emphasizes that family is a construct, your family can be your relatives, your friends, your community, the people you share space with, but your
relationship with family, ideally, should be reciprocal and warm. In the current exhibition, Family View, featuring work by Paul Elledge, Leasha Overturf, and Jo-Nell Sieren, visually showcases concerns and concepts of family, and is done to great effect. Jo-Nell's photographs of her family focus primarily on intimate portraits of her now deceased grandmother.
These closely cropped, luscious prints celebrate the wrinkles and softness of an old woman's skin and preserve and present a memory imbued with love. In marked contrast,
Paul Elledge's enlarged posters of postcards collected on family road trips and transformed into cross-hare targets reflect an acutely neurotic analysis of the pressures to create one's own family, and the experiences re-lived as an adult. Elledge has trans-substantiated images and objects precious to him as a child into violently punctured symbols of his perceived responsibility to commit to a family of his own. Elledge's wife, Leasha Overturf, has filled the third room of the gallery with a photo-narrative documenting her relationship with her sister, mother, and nieces and nephews and the ways that this relationship has evolved after her sister's transformation, via plastic surgery, from attractive woman into modified super-babe.
The final image in this series depicts the artist's youngest niece, her face screwed into a skeptical scowl that seems to wonder if family might be something more than the people you're born to.
Freaks & Flash @ Intuit
Freaks & Flash is an immensely pleasurable exploration of the vernacular history of tattoos curated by Amy Herlihy and Jan Petry. The walls of the Intuit gallery are thick with Flash sheets drawn by iconic tattoo artists Sailor Jerry, Tatts Thomas and George Burchett among many others. Providing a contrast in scale and media, the flash sheets are interspersed with several large hand-painted posters depicting tattooed freaks and sideshow performers, all women. In the current moment, tattoos have transitioned from a mark of freakdom or indicator of a military or prison sentence, to a more widely accepted form of personal modification and expression.
This show is an important opportunity to elucidate the rich history of tattooing as a folk art, tied with various social codes and experiences, while not ignoring the illicit aspects of its past. As someone who likes tattoos and has spent many hours looking at images of historical flash for inspiration, I was surprised by the contrasts between the highly racist and militant imagery of the Sailor Jerry designs, and the elegant, sophisticated, and sensual celebrations of love, women and God by artists like Joseph Darpel. Darpel, who was himself a tattooed wonder (courtesy of Bert Grimm) met his wife, the knife-throwing Mabel, while on the road as a human attraction. Later, they set up a traveling tattoo shop together that roamed the Midwest and Texas. Darpel's story, and the names credited to much of the art on view in Freaks & Flash, confronts the stereotype of early tattoo art as something made exclusively by and for men.
Vivan Sundaram, Trash at Walsh Gallery
Vivan Sundaram was born in 1943 in Simla, India. His exhibition at the Walsh Gallery, Trash, examines the culture of waste and re-use born out of the rising consumer culture of the urban elite in India. Sundaram built a massive city of trash in his studio and this construction has become the subject of several large-scale photographs and two video installations on view at the Walsh Gallery. Sundaram's images are disorienting Technicolor simulations of urban life where live-human presence is made nearly invisible by the accumulation of patterned, geometric, constructions of discarded soda cans, bottle caps, toothbrushes and other detritus. Owing more than a little of their captivating power to the post-apocalypse images of science fiction, Sundaram's photographs simultaneously make the leftover stuff of over-consumption into beautiful constructions of a quiet world and sinister representations of humanity - squashed by it's own inability to limit its indulgent and wasteful behavior. Sundaram's videos take the oblique references of the photographs and transform them into more didactic narratives. "Turning" acts as a visual
creation myth for the world the artist has built. Relying on a very self-conscious use of video as media, Sundaram magnifies the textures and elements of this world, illuminating the obsessive attention to detail in their design and arrangement. Sundaram is cited as hoping that the work in Trash will call attention to the large and impoverished population of trash-pickers in India by heightening our awareness of the permanence and omnipresence of the garbage they sift through, collect, sell and re-use to make their livelihoods. And indeed his vision of a silent, windswept world of plastic and metal junk is terrifying in its beauty.