Monday Morning Quarterback: 2/4/11 - 2/5/11

by Jeriah Hildwine and Stephanie Burke

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This weekend we braved the remnants of Snowzilla and checked out Fill in the Blank and LVLIII.  Read on for our thoughts, and don't forget to check out the slideshow!

Stephanie: Friday night, with the world still caught in the midst of
snowmageddon, we ventured over to Fill In The Blank Gallery to see Body
Tempest, a video piece created by Allen Killian-Moore.

The piece
itself was physically much more than I expected. Rather than simply
projecting the video on the wall, Killian-Moore enshrouded the
projection in a hobo circus-cum-revival tent, blood red and ominous, for
all its cartoonishness. Within, the floor, walls, and speakers were
dotted with chunks of human hair, and an eclectic mixture for tunes
blared out at me as I watched Levi Nies, the subject of the video,
slowly pull the hair from his head (Nies having just undergone
chemotherapy).

The combination of video and tent worked. The
tomb/circus/house/church blur all served to heighten the impact of
watching such a tragic event unfold through the filter of a single
repetitive act, the pulling and contemplation of hair. Knowing the
artist goal as (partially) drawing attention to the fragility of our
human bodies even in this contemporary space age, this half of the
presentation can be counted as a success. The add-ons, however, served
as jarring distractions, rather than reinforcing features. The music,
especially "Ride of the Valkyries" reminded me of a video I was told of
once, of a man being beheaded to the Benny Hill theme song. It was just
off, and just off enough to be disengaging. The inclusion of real hair
also felt unnecessarily redundant, taking the space away from a vault
for contemplation and into the realm of horror movie camp.

Jeriah:  The tent was great, it really gave the whole setup a feel that was half circus, half revival, with this kind of hard to pin down anachronistic feeling, like it was the 1890s or the 1950s or both at the same time.  And, like Killian-Moore said in his artist's talk, it also had the association with the body, the way red stuff usually does.

The video itself was really awesome as well.  It actually made me think a lot about special effects, about whether it was real or if it could have been faked (apparently it is quite real), and about horror movies.  There is a scene in The Craft where one of the characters loses her hair, and I think maybe also in that Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly.  Of course, this isn't a work of fictional fantasy like a horror movie, but rather an intensely real portrait of a human being in an extreme circumstance, at once alien and universal.  We all die, and we all have a hard time imagining it.  Not that we can't or don't think about it, but rather, that our vision of it is necessarily imperfect, because--notions of reincarnation aside--it's something none of us have ever done before.  A video of someone losing his hair due to chemotherapy lies far outside Noel Carroll's theory in A Philosophy of Horror, as the person in the video is only a person with an illness, rather than a threatening monster.  But, the very idea of cancer is a sort of horrific thought, not just in that it is scary, but (as Carroll said of monsters) it violates our category distinctions, most especially of "me" vs. "not me."   Is cancer a part of a person, or something alien?  There is no easy answer, as it violates the distinction normally created by those categories.  That is one of the things that makes it such a terrifying illness, aside from its simple lethality.

The artist also addressed the music in his talk; he was clearly aware of the disconnect between the Wagner piece and the video, as compared to the rest of the music which was more appropriate, if more expected.  I like the idea of what the includion of Ride of the Valkyries was supposed to be doing, of sort of pointing out the absurdity of an epic triumph in light of the frailty of the human body.  I think maybe the problem was that the piece basically had two soundtracks:  the Wagner, which was this ironic absurdity thing, and then the rest of the music which was just very appropriate and expected and normal and fine.  The transition from one to the other, even with the really long pauses, was jarring, and not in an exciting, "keep you on your toes" way.  It was just trying to do two things at once to the detriment of both.

Long story short, this is a great video in a great installation.  I do agree that I'm not sure the hair was necessary (unless it could have been Levi's hair, delicate wisps suggesting his presence in the space, rather than the big piles that could have come from a barber shop floor).  The Wagner score and the other music conflict with each other, and I think the piece overall would be better off if the music was either doing one thing, or the other, rather than trying to do both.  Having met the artist and heard his artist's talk, I'd like to think of these as the kind of observations you'd share with a friend during a studio visit, so the work could be improved before its next exhibition, rather than the kind of indelible mark one tries to make on art history by deconstructing what another has done.  Then again, I'm pretty sure I had a dream last night that I was chastised for publicly criticizing my friends' work, which is a weird thing to dream about and I just remembered it now, so...I hope the artists finds these observations helpful.

Stephanie:
Saturday, after much humming and hawing, we finally jumped on a bus and
headed down to LVL3 to check out I Am Not Superstitious, the first
anniversary show.

The works by Veronica Rafael and Ben Driggs
were particularly active, metaphorically and literally. Rafael's
photographs (all "Untitled") were magnificent micro/macrocosms. The
galaxy/pink sheet was particularly successful if this regard, as such an
intimate act positioned withing an equally intimate space, yet
discussing one of the largest formations in existence.

Though I
enjoyed all of Driggs, I think the best piece of his (and possibly the
entire show) was "Untitled," ie the fog machine. It was completely
ephemeral, a pain in the ass to sit around and wait for, short lived,
and awesome. It was like watching for shooting stars, or waiting to
catch my snake yawning. It an entire show given over to the rational
contemplation of the universe, this piece was the most open, and yet the
most inspiring of engagement with the overall idea.

I cannot, in
good conscience, ignore the connection that immediately formed in my
mind between this show and two other specific artists. One is Aspen
Mays, who's pseudo-scientific photographs ponder the investigations of
contemporary science through the kaleidoscope of humor and play. The
other is a piece I saw recently at Swimming Pool Project Space by Josh
Reames, his ladder to the stars in two parts, mirroring Sundquist's
Saw Horse pair, and both of which carry on the legacy of Kosuth's One
and Three Chairs.

Jeriah:  I liked Veronica Rafael's large photograph of what looked like a dirty, dusty corner of a couch, with what might have been flakes of white paint or something like that.  Kind of reminded me of Steph's photos of her grandpa's house.  There was also a smaller photograph next to it that I liked, of what looked like the twist left in some sheets when someone got out of bed in the morning.  These photos seemed to me just kind of simple and pretty, which is all right by me.  (Rafael's artist statement suggests that they're much more complex, and I'm sure that they are, but in this case I prefer to ignore all that and just enjoy the images.)

Sundquist's paintings look like tape-stencil spray painted chevrons.  In some ways they're a little typical of the sort of contemporary conceptual abstraction that we see a lot of around Chicago, but they do go a little farther than this.  One thing I really like about them is the way they're painted on unprimed fabric.  This does two things.  One is that it cuts down on the brilliance of the color, so that they become more muted, which is a welcome relief from all the oversaturation that seems to be common in this type of painting today.  The other thing I liked about this decision was the way the weave of the fabric itself plays into the image.  I'm the kind of guy who gets close to paintings to try and see what kind of support they're on.  Odd Nerdrum uses a canvas with a sort of herringbone twill type of weave to it, for example.  Some of Sundquist's paintings are on a herringbone as well, which nicely echoes the pattern of the tape.  Sundquist's artist statement is refreshingly straightforward and clear.  These images are what they are:  color and pattern, and an interplay between artist-made patterns and mechanically produced ones.  Makes sense.  I like it.

Driggs' work is kind of fun, too.  "Möbius Chain" is an altar-like collection of objects including, most memorably, a massive pillar of candle wax, with a little candle burning at the top.  Like the Matterhorn at Disneyland, its surface begs inquiry into its construction.  Is it solid wax?  Is there an armature of some kind under there?  Or, like the Disney Matterhorn, is there a little half basketball court at the top, for the workers to play during their down time?

The dripping fog juice piece is first perceptible as that very distinctive, subtle, sickly-sweet smell that sort of wafts through the space.  It takes a second to figure out what it is, since the smell is disassociated from its usual context of concerts, clubs, and Halloween party.  It takes a while to discover the mechanism: a dripper is mounted in the ceiling, or above it, and the heating element is submerged beneath the floor.  I found it when I saw a puff of fog wafting up from the floor.  The puffs are few and far between, so it can be an exercise in frustration trying to wait for one to appear.  Steph did a good job of describing the experience:  like watching a meteor shower or something.

Stephanie Burke
was born in Nevada City, CA in 1984. She received her BA in Studio Art
and Anthropology from Humboldt State University in 2007, and her MFA in
Photography from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.
Currently she lives in Chicago with her husband Jeriah,
makes work, teaches, writes for Bad at Sports, runs Art Talk Chicago, and maintains
her own blog, The Gallery Crawl and So Much More.
When not making, teaching, looking at, or writing about art, she enjoys
running around in the woods, drinking beer by bonfires, crazy quilting
and target shooting.

Jeriah
is an artist, educator, writer, and snack enthusiast.  You can see his
work at www.jeriahhildwine.com,
and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago Art
Magazine
.  Jeriah lives and works in Chicago, with his wife Stephanie
Burke
.

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