This essay was published in response to The Hyde Park Art Center’s exhibition, Ground Floor featuring work by Jeremy Bolen, Guillermo R. Gudiño, Julie Renée Jones, Tony Lewis, Andrew Thomas Lopez, Eric May, Rachel Niffenegger, Josh Reames, Casilda Sánchez, Neal Vandenbergh, and Shane Ward. (Details and excerpt forthcoming). The show runs from August 19, 2012 – November 11, 2012 with an opening reception on September 23rd from 3-5pm.
A Net for Invisible Things
Ground Floor is an exhibition that platforms a series of recent MFA graduates from the Chicago area. It is an eclectic group of artists. Each one has carved out and defined a process for aesthetic investigation; each employs a unique medium, which in turn highlights distinct social, philosophical, and psychological concerns; as such there isn’t necessarily a single, cohesive curatorial aesthetic. There are, however resonant echoes and many share an inherent suspicion of images, their power and proliferation, as well as their use and function in society. Given the density of imagery in our culture, it is likely that we have all grown suspicious: images sell us things; they are capable of manipulation and they propagate values. Consequently these eleven artists are, by virtue of occupation, thrust into the heart of a maelstrom from which they must create strategies to describe, liberate, transpose, or skew imagistic intentions.
Rachel Niffenegger paints the figure—in particular, the portrait. Unlike her predecessors, these figures emerge from a bloom of dried watercolors on the surface of fabric or paper, like specters. Their haunted ephemerality is especially pronounced in the torn up “shrouds.” Brown, mottled faces peer at us like wispy spirits, frozen mid-rot and shimmering with the slightest wind. In Shroud (Etiolated Shred and Symbol) the surface of the portrait is all but disintegrated; it hangs off of a cross. The cross functions as an archetypal sign for the body—in this case, bone-like and almost pink. It is as though the shroud has drawn the life of that body into itself. Niffenegger describes these as ritual artifacts left behind by another, imagined civilization. Their purpose remains oblique yet their potency is clear. They are not entirely serious either, riding a line between B-horror movie effects and disturbing faces of trauma. The chains in the Art Center’s stairwell are clearly plastic, yet the shrouds billow like ghosts, moving of their own accord.