Monthly Archives: May 2013

Marissa Lee Benedict at Threewalls

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Benedict is interested in processes. My question is: How am I, as a viewer, being made to understand the processes she is interested in? If I give a plain reading of what I see it would go something like this. “There is a bucket with green dirty water and lamps around it. In the middle of the room, t

here is a branch with a plastic bag filled with water attached to it. There are two SAIC drinking bottles with dirty water and an SAIC book with a magnifying glass mounted above it. However, by the way it is displayed I don’t feel invited to look through them. Probably she wants to show she studied at SAIC”

If she want to show her interest in processes, why doesn’t she build a laboratory? Go for it girl, all the way!

Benedict was much more successful with her piece in the lobby of the Sharp building of SAIC. She had build a structure in which she grew plants, all the way with lamps and dirt. Seeing this work as part of a larger setting where people work and study and pass by on the street, we are invited to witness the process of growing, nature, life. I enjoyed passing by her installation and the life and the green she brought into my life so much. It became part of my daily routine. We see the plants grow. How amazing it is, for us city people!

In respect to her show at Threewalls, the question arises: how does an artist translate a work to a gallery setting where the work is experienced as a one time event only? How do you engage the viewer in your basic interest in processes when the viewer spends only a brief moment with the work? Is the gallery the right place for her work?

LeWitt And Sandback at Rhona Hoffman

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Concrete Block Structure by Sol LeWitt

My first question seeing this concrete block is where did he build it? The next: how heavy must it be? And I end with: if he didn’t build it here, how did he get it here? It must be really heavy. I am aware that these questions aren’t relevant for any art historian or regular viewer. Maybe I am just not interested in some philosophical thoughts that inevitably lie behind this work, but more in my own struggles and amazement with building things. Whenever my father proudly helped me with hanging something on my wall or fixing something in my house, he’d say “It’s time you learn this yourself.” And I would hold my hand next to his and say “look dad, look at your hand, then look at mine. What difference do you see?” I am much better in making maquettes when it comes down to building things, so I have respect for people who build large things.

I had the urge to climb on it and sit on it for a while. Maybe waiving at the people passing by the window. But I thought it to be rather inappropriate. I know who Sol Lewitt is. And some institution or rich bitch wouldn’t like their work to be insulted by some art student, let alone, Rhona would freak out.

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Fred Sandback: Sculptures

Apparently the thread by Sandback is supposed to be the outline of something. Also, apparently, he had stretched strings for a long time. I am amazed how your artistic practice can get so narrow. If it is true that stretching thread is all he did, how did he keep it exciting for himself?

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There were also two drawings framed on the wall. They were cute. My first thought was well, they have to sell something… It was also my last thought in relation to the work.

Sorry, it is not really a review. I have honestly nothing interesting to say about the work. I am more amazed by the question of artistic boredom. Sorry again, I go with what I see and experience, not by art historical context. But in that respect, this is what it says on Rhona’s website:

“Exhibited concurrently with Sol LeWitt: Concrete Block Structure is the solo exhibition Fred Sandback: Sculptures. In 1986 Sandback, in looking back over twenty years of a consistent art practice, wrote “The first sculpture I made with a piece of string and a little wire was the outline of a rectangular solid . . . lying on the floor. It was a casual act, but it seemed to open up a lot of possibilities for me.” This exhibition marks the 6th solo exhibition for the artist at Rhona Hoffman Gallery and the gallery is featuring sculptures that span the period from 1976 to 2002.

The sculptures are composed of acrylic yarn, a material that for Sandback held no significant associations. The yarn’s soft, fuzzy profile invokes a less crisp line than that produced by other mediums, and its fiber makeup absorbs rather than reflects light. The resulting effect allows for a seamless and symbiotic relationship between the material, its composition and the site it inhabits. The mutable character of any Sandback sculpture is relative to its site, and its proportions are calibrated in response to the site’s architecture. While the line of yarn never posits to be more than a line, the linear imagination of the viewer envisions a plane. Trajectory, ascent and descent (the inherent qualities of a line) subside as the vibration of the invisible planes take precedence. The otherwise elusive void or vacancy is given form, illustrating Sandback’s ability to reveal the relationships between the incorporeal and concrete, the ethereal and the tangible.”

Spectator Sports at MoCP

I grew up playing sports. Day and night, all year round, switching from one sport to another. Team after team. The culture of athletics occupies a primacy in contemporary culture as it did in my youth. It is credited for providing a formative structure for youth to learn the lessons of life, the value of hard work and discipline, the importance of teamwork, and the rewards of exercise and good health. I participated in this culture from an early age and aside from the teachings of the game the experience revealed volumes about culture as a whole. I’m not sure if my teammates were as aware of the social and cultural revelations that were happening between us. Through sports I learned about homophobia, about extreme class difference, about gender roles and the constructs of race identity- all by the time I was 12. My experiences playing sports greatly impacted who I am today, and on a much smaller note would contribute to the excitement I felt about an exhibition that revolves around sports.

This was my first trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and it took me a second to get an idea of the galleries layout. It’s an awkward space, consisting of three floors of small exhibition space. I think the size of the show, in terms of the scale of the works and the amount of works included, was rather constricted due to the galleries layout. I found myself combing through the artist registry in my head, searching for works or artists who were not featured in the show. Admittedly, my first impression of the exhibition left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. This would eventually change.

I have a new favorite. In Julie Henry’s two channel video projection Going Down collective human emotion is palpable. The piece depicts the crowds of two rival British football clubs, each occupying their own frame, positioned facing each other on adjacent gallery walls. Both crowds are electric and anxious, the heads in both screens face the same direction holding expressions of intense focus and expectation. We as viewers are situated in between the opposing groups, and often become subject to a threatening glance thrown by a spectator. The sound of the piece is equally immersive, as the volume of the crowd raises it informs us of a crucial moment in the invisible game. One of the teams scores polarizing the emotions of the two crowds. Its beautiful. The elated victors celebrate by hugging and jumping, they make eye contact with each other, they share in the victory be acknowledging each other. They become united. On the opposite side, we witness the collapse. No one touches each other or turns to their neighbor for solace. The only thing they share is the same facial expression, forlorn brows and vengeful eyes. They all retreat to their own seats. I love this piece. So simple in it’s construction, it really capture’s the intensity of being in a crowd, and illustrates a collective force that encompasses a crowd.

The work of Vesna Pavolovic also looks toward the spectator but through the lens of photography. These images are immensely less visceral. At times they feel completely void of emotion or frustratingly ambiguous. Pavolovic is interested in “the act of looking itself,” but to me these photos are more about the photographer then the subject. I can imagine her working her way through the crowd with complete disregard for the sporting event. So much so that it erases her presence altogether, like the crowd would never notice her.

I was also drawn to video pieces by Paul Pfeiffer and Brett Kashmere. Both artists pull from existing materials and video footage to construct critical responses to identity and its connection to nationality, masculinity, and history. Kashmere has three pieces in the exhibition, the most engaging is Valery’s Ankle, a 33 minute film that addresses hockey’s relationship to national identity and global politics. The real life narrative describing the 1972 Summit Series match up between Canada and the Soviet Union is interspersed with countless video footage of hockey fights and other violent episodes pertaining to the sport. Kashmere is a native to Canada, which gives the piece a personal undercurrent. His narration has a tone of sadness and shame. The piece is fascinating in the way it reveals how the international hockey event become subject to clashing Cold War ideologies, a platform for Canada’s political figures, and an opportunity to demonstrate the countries ongoing relationship to violence in the form of organized sports. Kashmere stakes a claim that
Bobby Clarke’s breaking of rival Russian star Valery Kharlamov’s ankle during the 1972 Summit Series is a pivotal point in Canadian history, with ramifications for the country and the sport alike.

I have seen Paul Pfeiffer’s work in several other exhibitions, but none that were devoted to sports specifically. The single piece in this exhibition is a good one but very small, it left me longing to see more. Where was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or The Long Count (The Rumble in the Jungle)? Perhaps these works were inaccessible but the exhibition would have been much stronger had they been included.

Although I don’t think it hit it’s mark, I would still recommend stopping in to see this show. It runs through July 13th.

Joan Mitchell at The Poetry Foundation

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” at the Poetry Foundation, is both elegant and sober. It is perhaps too restrained knowing the intensity and expression of Mitchell’s works. As a lover of contemporary art, the idea of visiting the Poetry Foundation may not seem the most appealing, but this is a show everyone can enjoy.

The extremely well funded Poetry Foundation opened its River North home in 2011 at the corner of Dearborn and Superior, designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects. I first looked at Mitchell’s Minnesota (1980) – a large quadriptych painting installed in the entrance of the institution – located outside the building. The transparency of the building and the reflection of the outside trees superposed to the painting itself was uncanny, more than being inside the gallery space. (See the image below)

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Mitchell is not known for her lines. Only as a child did she write poems, but literature and poetry would remain sources of inspiration throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a fiction writer, editor and poet and worked as an associate editor at Poetry magazine. (The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry). Poetry and painting have been in a long and complicated relationship. Clarifying poetry through art exhibitions, lectures and other events, has been a goal of the foundation, to make poetry less insulated and open it up to the public, not just to the academic community. While I cannot conclude that this is successfully achieved here, poetry is perhaps the most difficult of all literary forms to teach. Through Mitchell’s example, the foundation may seek to address the difficulties and rewards of bringing the visual and the verbal into friendly contact.

The exhibition also includes four vitrines in the library featuring several photographs of Mitchell’s childhood and later years, the December 1935 issue of Poetry in which her poem “Autumn” was published, and letters from her parents. Another vitrine showcases correspondence between the poet, art critic and curator Frank O’Hara and Mitchell. One can review gossip-filled letters, an original copy of O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” (1979), and photographs of the two.

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Although Mitchell lived most of her life in France, her childhood memories of the Lake Michigan and the Midwest were always part of her oeuvre. As she said, “I carry my landscapes around with me;” indeed Mitchell also carries poetry with her, another type of landscape.

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” is on view through May 31 at the Poetry Foundation; poetryfoundation.org.

West Loop

It was a sunny day and Mike Hall and I met up to check out some West Loop art action after some much needed hangover penance at The Grange Hall. Our spirits lifted somewhat, we began at Peter Miller, which had some well-rendered nude figuration in charcoal. The work seemed to concern groupings of robust originary human forms, in some way god-like but each time with the attendant awkwardness of their being turned-away from the viewer such that the posterior registered as a unifying feature among the individual works. I couldn’t quite get what was being communicated by the artist in these works, perhaps there was something other than decent rendering, proto-human forms, and a mythic, quasi-spiritual mood. Were these works in dialogue with Böcklin or some other allegorical heavy-hitter in some way?

The gallery itself was kind of a mess. The floors didn’t appear to have been swept and the walls were inordinately marked-up. There was a mood in the space of a distinct lack of caring. Strangely, there was a strong smell familiar from health-food stores; a kind of mixture of bulk grains and spices, vitamins, and produce. Is Peter Miller a hippy? What would a hippy-run white-cube space look like? What would it show? Big Jerry Garcia-looking nudes, maybe.

We knocked around a bit more, eventually staying a while at Rhona Hoffman where Karthik Pandian’s expansive treatment of the multiple spaces there includes an uncredited audio component by SAIC sound alum Robby McBain. The cool, intelligent look of Pandian’s work seems to at times provide an opening into an underlying ontology while carefully remaining obscure enough to bring the viewer from one tableau to the next.

The film upstairs, if less available to phenomenological encounter, does push the reading back into the dark space that nearly consumes it which has been addressed by McBain’s six-channel generative tone study. Such moments are rare in art, wherein something ocular is prohibitive in such a way as to propel the reading to a non-ocular encounter with space. In this case, I can’t say it was deliberate. There’s a clever story behind the film involving a performance for no one which was then re-performed from memory by the performers. But rather than staying true to it’s default reading as a window into something else, Pandian’s staid modernist kitch rejects the interest promptly and in the somewhat vast context of sonically active darkness which must itself be encountered.
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Nate Young at The Suburban

These days I pull back a black curtain and fully expect to walk into a video installation. There’s a language present in the mere existence of the curtain: “this work requires some degree of isolation.” There is a moment of confusion when first entering Nate Young’s installation at The Suburban, however—no video in sight, and an endless loop of what sounds distinctly like James Brown, plus a crowd, plus something else—a kind of religious fervor?

I might not have found the video for “Untouched” at all—I know a few folks that didn’t—except that the space was occupied by a few enthusiastic youngsters who excitedly chimed out ‘It’s here!! Over here!!” and pointed me toward a video screen hidden behind another curtain. An isolated work within an isolated work.

The video is a set of disembodied white-gloved hands. They move in choreographic circles, like a magician’s, as the endless loop of sound plays. In the video, it’s clear where the loop begins and ends—there’s a very sharp visual ‘cut’ where the hands jump positions on the screen—whereas in the listening one feels that the loop is going on forever.

The initial impressions are near-religious—a dark, meditative space where the hands of a near-mystic move in constant rhythm—but what emerges after prolonged viewing is something else entirely. What emerges is a comment on race. On minstreldom. The audio recording emerges as more distinctly James Brown, and in repetition the familiarity of the sound ebbs away. Is the voice tortured? Is this the voice of someone who has been forced to ‘perform’ blackness, over and over, to a point beyond identity or recognition?

The hands move in circles, move in circles. And further. And some point the invisibility of the ‘performer’—invisible in a field of black—comes into question. The bodyless field becomes a minstrel and a universal black performer all at once—black the field, black isolated and encompassing all at once, black race-and-not-race.

The clip, the point where the loop begins and ends—is distracting. It reads like a record skip, takes you out of it. It’s a glitch, in the literal and cultural sense of the word—glitch as in perceived error, glitch as in disruptive entity. It’s irritating and embedded in the work at the same time. It makes the loop laborious, a task that is endlessly repeated. A kind of falling down and getting up, an Sisyphean task.

It takes a minute to stumble back through the darkened room, find the fold in the curtain again, and emerge back into the sunlight. By then the audio has become something else entirely—it’s attached to various unfolding meanings of performance, heavy with multiple meanings. It’s isolating and all-encompassing at the same time. The sunlight hurts your eyes after all the darkness.

Joan Mitchell at The Poetry Foundation

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” at the Poetry Foundation, is elegant and sober. It is perhaps too sober knowing the intensity and expression of Mitchell’s works. As a contemporary art lover, the idea of visiting the Poetry Foundation may not seem the most appealing, but don’t let that stop you from seeing this show.

The extremely well funded Poetry Foundation opened its River North home in 2011 at the corner of Dearborn and Superior, designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects. I first looked at Mitchell’s Minnesota (1980) – large quadriptych painting installed in the entrance of the institution – from outside the building. The transparency of the building, the reflection of the outside trees superposed to the painting itself was uncanny, more than being inside the gallery space. (See the image below)Image

Mitchell is not known for her lines. Only as a child she wrote poems, but literature and poetry would remain sources of inspiration throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a fiction writer, editor and poet and was an associate editor at Poetry magazine. (The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry). Poetry and painting have been in a long and complicated relationship. Clarifying poetry through art exhibitions, lectures and other events, has been a goal of the foundation, to make poetry less insulated and open it up to the public, not just to the academic community. I’m not sure if this is successfully achieved but poetry is perhaps the most difficult of all literary forms to teach. Through Mitchell’s example, the foundation may seek to address the difficulties and rewards of bringing the visual and the verbal into friendly contact.

The exhibition also includes four vitrines in the library featuring several photographs of Mitchell’s childhood and later years, the December 1935 issue of Poetry in which her poem “Autumn” was published, letters from her parents. Another vitrine showcases correspondence between the poet, art critic and curator Frank O’Hara and Mitchell: their gossip-filled letters, an original copy of O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” (1979), and photographs of the two.

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Although Mitchell lived most of her life in France, her childhood memories of the Lake Michigan and the Midwest were always part of her oeuvre. As she said, “I carry my landscapes around with me,” she also carries poetry with her, another landscape.

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” is on view through May 31 at the Poetry Foundation; poetryfoundation.org.

Upstream Color

Upstream Color: A Contemporary film Review

I wanted to end in something abstracted from the white walls and put into a theatrical situation. I have never written a film review, but this seemed to be one of the few current mainstream films that resonated with something in an interesting way. This film directly engages with the strange nature of writing, reading, and living with a book while dealing with a fragmented reality.
There is a strange distance in the beginning of the film that circle to the end. The characters in the film seem to intertwine while facing two enemies or darker controllers. I have not quite settled on the darker character the first antagonist being the carrier and initial manipulator or the second being the farmer of direct surgical detriment and secondary interference of motorization. Both mentally and physically take and alter the victims, but which remains more sinister as manipulative crimes.
The introduction to Walden was a matter that confused the individualization of the victims’ reality. The crime seemed to have been an act of self-sabotage to the victim of waking up. What really becomes alienator in the end, is it the individual mentality of the victims or farmers? Which displays more animal qualities in the end the pig or the human?
I recommend at least one viewing of the film it really deserves two in my opinion. Contextualizing the harmful bodies becomes difficult to resolve when equating the small organism that in the end becomes the true farmer.
It is an interesting movie to align with the current wave of capitalist manipulation of government. Billionaires are feeding activist movements to the public to suit their reckless agendas. The Koch Brothers are a prime example in their lobbying of political power. The cut taxes of the richest and the draining of the poorest populations that cannot voice an informed opinion as most of the corruption is sealed underneath a blanket of undisclosed agendas in public access. Private lives hold the most insidious truths behind a failing system of ruthless individuals willing to throw 99% of the population under the bus for a tax cut that isn’t about the additional money, but is rather clear it is about the power of being able to control the population.

“Downtown 88”: The Art of Business, After the Show

In April, Chicago-based artist Hebru Brantley hosted “Downtown 88” at the Lacuna Artist Loft’s Ultra Gallery. The event revealed new works by the artist during a private dinner for collectors and VIPs in the early evening, and the space transformed into a party that night for a more expansive group of energized young professionals. The event drew a crowd of 1000+ attendees and featured live music and entertainment, including fire-breathing acrobats, break-dancers, and iconic hip-hop deejay and lyricist Q-tip.

“Downtown 88” was reminiscent of the artist’s partnerships with brands like Red Bull, Bombay Sapphire, and Skyy Vodka for artist competitions, advertising campaigns, and related marketing events last year, which has undoubtedly brought the Hebru Brantley brand (Hebru Brand) visibility on both the global art and commercial consumer markets. With sneaker deals, album covers, celebrity commissions, international art fairs, and more involvement with partners from the corporate sector to come in 2013, it should go without saying that Brantley’s approach to branding is a bit of an anomaly for a young, black male artist in Chicago. In essence, the visibility afforded to the Hebru Brand through these networks and partnerships have blurred the lines between audiences/consumers, cultural producers/commercial consumer brands, as well as arts/business.

Brantley’s strategy seems to involve appealing to dynamic, urban consumer class that recognizes the interconnectedness of popular, material, and visual culture. This approach to branding suggests that people buy brands, and that brand equity is achieved by going beyond simple awareness in order to communicate the brand identity to audiences. This then leads to validation in which value and audience are connected—the question is no longer “Who is the artist?” but rather “What is the artist about?”

As an attempt to answer this question, I sat down with Brantley’s manager, Pia Johnson, to discuss the complexities of the “Downtown 88” event within the framework of the contemporary art exhibition or gallery opening. Thus, it seems that this willingness to redesign business structures, processes, and norms has produced a powerful competitive advantage for Brantley as an emerging ‘street’ artist in Chicago, while also fostering a management approach conducive to growth and experimentation:

BN: Talk a little bit about the inspiration for these new works and how you begin pulling things together from a brand manager/dealer/gallerist/consultant position when the artist has an idea?

PJ: In particular, with Downtown 88, the party came before the work. The work was a continued idea to have the entire party under the influence of “things past”…. “Downtown 88” was a night in celebration of Hebru’s 32nd Birthday, as well as a moment to celebrate other greats that have come before, in music, art and sports. Being a child of the 80’s, the year 88’ for Hebru is considered to be as powerful as infinity. A collective moment in history, where all things either came together or fell apart, where his memories begin. Memories that vividly include Michael Jordan & Mike Tyson’s early years in sports, to the deaths of Jean Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. “Downtown 88” [was intended to be] a reflection of these greats, with art that re-appropriates their work, to music and dance that reflects the energy of the times.

BN: Hebru Brand productions often blur the lines between art and live entertainment through fusing art, live music, and performances and “Downtown 88” was the biggest example of that yet. In what ways do you ensure that new collectors can engage with the artworks so that they actually sell?

PJ: Most of the work is generally sold before the actual event. We have shows simply for everyone to appreciate the work. However, our collectors constantly purchase.

BN: Hebru’s work is very different than the stuff you see in the West Loop galleries, which has encouraged an entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and innovation. Has the Chicago art scene paved the way for the unique business model that defines the Hebru Brand?

PJ: I don’t think any “Business” model is readily followed in the art world. A lot of people crinkle their noses at the business aspect and the art of functionally bringing in dollars no matter if on merchandise or art. I think the art scene in Chicago will get on the bandwagon soon. Understanding that you can’t always produce art for arts sake…how do you support yourself, have a work space or even purchase materials if there are no dollars coming in the door?

BN: All shows and events are hosted from the studio/office/exhibition space in Lacuna Artists Lofts. What are the next steps for Ultra Gallery?

PJ: A lot more group exhibitions and collaborations. One idea we are working on is how we can efficiently exist within the art/gallery world BUT not take the place of a museum. Not just having work on the walls alone. But some way people can interact and have a relationship with the work. It’s all in the making but soon to come.

[Unfortunately, the awesome images that were intended to accompany this post have not been attached due to the absence of an “Add Media” option in WordPress. Thus, you are strongly encouraged to view the artist’s work by other means. Sorry folks, blame me not.]

McClusky’s Circus Collages @ INTUIT

However specific what we know about him may be, a distinct lack of further biographical information builds up an aura of mystery around C.T. McClusky’s works covering the walls of the backroom at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.Image

He’s known to have worked as a circus clown in mid 20th century and his artworks are rooted directly in the unique atmosphere of his surroundings. This complete set of works were discovered by John Turner in 1975 at a flea market , then working as a curator for the now closed Museum of Craft and Folk Arts in San Francisco and it’s easy to imagine his delight upon coming across a beaten up suitcase full of drawings and collages reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec’s scenes of European night life and the ruckus of a transitional period, where the early modernist/revisionist agenda and romantic decadence were at play in fairly equal measure.

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The modestly sized works on display are McClusky’s reflections on the lively nature of daily circus life. He’s role is one of an observer, peaking in other entertainers practicing their tricks, girls and elephants glorified to no end. A couple of pieces have large newspaper clippings, detailing the competitive nature of the camp from the perspective of a reporter. But despite the festive nature of this environment, an unmistakeable

air of melancholy is present within each picture. Pictures of animals are cut from cereal and cracker boxes, while candy wrappers are employed to take care of special effects. Cowboys on horses, office workers and ballerinas are placed around the stage in one picture, while another combines a plate of sausage and beans with barely dressed dancers. One can feel McClusky’s longing for the conventional lifestyle of American families as a couple of drawings compositionally pit bundled up groups of animals against merry families with children on bike rides or walking into idyllic pastures. The artist is fully aware of his seperation from these norms but still manages to appear victorious by owning up to the curious nature of his occupation.

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These collages are child like and naive one second yet appear to be expertly put together the other. Materials and dimensions of the work help the immediacy of the narratives at place. It is easy to feel transported right next to McClusky, as if everyone has taken a break and the best thing to do is try and write a letter to those at home, unfortunately there is no other home or a recipient on the other end. Lastly, adding to melancholy of the whole show, is the suitcase found at the flea market. Curiously it is not placed centrally but despite being shut close,bulky and powerful it trembles with vitality as all the drawings are now matted and framed, but the suitcase claims its space silently, scuffs and dents all over it, pointing back to a world weary traveler, who was truly alone.

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emre k.