The Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation in partnership with the Chicago Artists Coalition are proud to present the fifth exhibition of their joint Curatorial Fellowship program, An Image for a Vessel curated by Sharmyn Cruz Rivera with works by Carris Adams, Yani Aviles, Stephen Eichhorn, Erin Hayden, Lesley Jackson, Alejandro Jimenez-Flores, Thomas Kong, Aay Preston-Myint, Deb Sokolow, and Ruby T.
Philosophical inquiries into the power that language holds in culture and society have become central to discussions of representation and materiality in the twenty-first century. The privileging of language as the primary determinant of meaning gives grammatical discourse a disproportionate role in determining how we understand and relate to the world. Humans' dependence on language is so strong and pervasive that, in the occasion of unpacking its power and reach, it is apparent that language is consistently prioritized over matter as the chief locus of meaning in our daily lives. This relationship is paramount when talking about the making, discourse, and dissemination of images. An Image for a Vessel looks to text and symbolism in artistic expression to highlight how language operates as an attributing system that reifies the identities of objects, nature, the self, or others. Artists in this exhibition deploy humor, a sense of play, and relational qualities in image-making to point to the politics of semantics and semiotics in visual culture. The exhibition also engages with theorist Karen Barad's take on performativity: "Performativity, properly construed, is not an invitation to turn everything (including material bodies) into words; on the contrary, performativity is precisely a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real." Barad's line of reasoning functions as a guiding force throughout the exhibition while underscoring the capacity of artwork to perform free from the instruments of language.
Carris Adams' paintings take cues from promotional signs, street murals, and other vernacular imagery present in the everyday landscape. Her painting in the exhibition reads "Signs All Kinds," referencing a sign at a mom and pop shop advertising sign-making services. By removing it from that context, the language on its own starts to claim other semantic meanings, while also becoming a material that is conceptually multi-layered. Deb Sokolow's methodical drawings employ elements of conspiracy theory in storytelling. The tone is blunt and descriptive of humorous socio-political situations that appear irreverent, yet one might suspect, are anchored in reality. Playing with idleness and comical gestures, Alejandro Jimenez-Flores uses language to test the limits of meaning-making. Through painting, Jimenez-Flores conceives an original pictorial taxonomy that is always at play in his work, illustrating how arbitrary symbols gain semiotic value. Adding to this visual vocabulary, the images of flowers are gathered from text messages sent to Jimenez-Flores by friends, they function as double entendre for the artist's second last name. The artist-made archive as a cyclical source of material is central to Stephen Eichhorn's practice. His collages start from carefully selected cut-outs of plants from magazines and natural history books. In a rare gesture, Eichhorn reveals a main source of this work by using the title of the book. This inclusion demonstrates how exhausting one source of information can generate a semiotic jungle of its own.
Employing cartoon gestures and esoteric signs, Ruby T's schematic drawings intend to unveil the sociopolitical structures that consolidate power. In River curse and Mountain whisk, the work KEY stands forefront to the graphic drama that engulfs the drawings - it appears that this KEY might allow passage from one reality to another. Yani Aviles's wall-bound sculpture functions as an index of various shades of brown, summoning the politics of racialized bodies. Aviles uses materials lyrically to produce multi-sensorial installations and sculptures that activate the body of the viewer in space. Aay Preston-Myint's silkscreens work as vignettes, a sequence in which the mirror is veiled and then revealed, refusing to reflect back, losing its function and becoming a vacant container. Adding to that tension, the mirrors are printed on dyed canvases that hang delicately, creating material friction with the signifier.
Most of Lesley Jackson's pieces start with a noun, a simple intention that evolves in the making of each sculpture. Jackson's poetic pieces are almost functional. Using handmade found materials, the work is meant to challenge the relationship humans have with inanimate things. Highlighting the tension between built environment and nature, the artist carefully arranges objects like a spell, making them cohabit in harmony. Erin Hayden's Whatever Forever overlaps various depictions of cats in popular culture - from social media sensation, grumpy cat, to Pokemon's central character, Pikachu, and to a common drawing of a cat. Hayden uses versions of cats that have a strange and sometimes humorous presence in our collective memory and combines them with cheeky language found on the internet. By layering popular representations of an animal, her work offers the viewer a reflection on the politics of image-making in today's cultural landscape. Since 2010, Thomas Kong has produced hundreds of outstanding collages in his convenience store, Kim's Corner Store, in Rogers Park. Using surplus packaging such as cardboard boxes and advertising materials, he recycles these into dynamic compositions that are meditative and intuitive. Kong works quietly and deliberately mixing colors, shapes, and text any time he gets a break from customers.
The exhibition departs from the premise that art is a privileged site of meaning. With the ability to move inside and outside of language with ease, visual artists operate in a field of intersecting visual vocabularies that ask the viewer to mine legibility. In An Image for a Vessel, representation can be proposed as a slippery mediating function, that if meddled with, can reveal alternative ways of understanding the self and the world.
About the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation Curatorial Fellowship
Launched in 2016, the Curatorial Fellowship program offers an emerging curator who has completed Chicago Artist Coalition’s yearlong HATCH Projects a next-step in their professional development. The Curatorial Fellowship program charges the chosen curator to create a show with work selected from nonprofit visual arts galleries and organizations supported by the Foundation in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Visual Arts Organizations Represented
ACRE, Chicago Artists Coalition, Comfort Station, Elastic Arts, Elmhurst Art Museum, Heaven Gallery, Ragdale Foundation, Roman Susan, Roots and Culture, Spudnik Press, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Woman Made Gallery
Sharmyn Cruz Rivera is a Puerto Rican curator based in Chicago, whose practice examines the intermedial qualities of sound art, video, contemporary dance, and performance art. Her interest and research depart from meditations on human geography, radical manifestations of identity and methodologies of collaboration.