Aimée Beaubien’s Twist-Flip-Tremble-Trace, open at West Town’s Johalla Projects (April 17-May 17, by appointment) disrupts the notion of the static photograph with an exuberance that belies the artist’s ability to consider her multi-decade practice as a cohesive evolution of the image in space. Beaubien’s photo-collage technique has been both disparate and sculptural in its many iterations, but this, her first foray into 3-dimensions, pushes her work with the constructed image into direct confrontation with possibilities and limitations of photography’s physicality.
A confrontation between object and audience is unavoidable. The photo-sculptures preside tenuously over Johalla’s intimate exhibition space—if not smugly, then certainly with an air of self-assuredness—each requiring a close inspection despite their clear frangibility. Photographs are scored into thousands of attenuated strips, woven, folded, mounted, hanging, constructed across axes to give depth and body to the found-furniture Beaubien uses to structure her sculptures. In Fret-foil-dangle-glow the artist considers the textural limits these objects can access. Photographs may be diffused across the bodies of these works, but the manipulation of their surface by folding, weaving, braiding, and intersecting parts into a whole creates an altogether new visuality—less narrative and more a discreet personality.
Varied in execution and structure, the objects range from figural behemoths, rising more than 6 feet in the air, to almost coy references to the domestic origin of these found objects, floral eruptions of photographic fragments from a small, dated vase. They are exactly what they appear to be and aggravatingly nothing like it; Beaubien’s success resides somewhere between her ability to meet your expectations while doing it in ways wholly unexpected. Perhaps most intriguing is the work chosen to open the show. Facing the door, almost creeping towards or poised to consume the vinyl title of the exhibition, Chitter-burst-tangle-swell is both of the wall and bursting into space. Organic, even parasitic, in its uneven and looping structure, it employs the entire breadth of Beaubien’s sculptural techniques employed throughout the exhibition. Occasionally an unrendered, readable image peeks out from the near inscrutable structure of photographic and domestic detritus, their particular importance unclear, but tantalizing nonetheless.
Johalla’s recent propensity towards the high-clarity narrative-based photography are pleasantly interrupted by Beaubien’s willful disruption in good spirit. Much is made these days of play—be it the tenacity of childhood’s wonderment or some reclamation of a loss every grown person mourns. The objects exhibited in Twist-Flip-Tremble-Trace embody this mode of inquiry, compounded with a meaningful inquiry of materiality and the image imbued with body and heft, taking up space while depicting it. Ultimately, Johalla’s space becomes a labyrinth through which one might find equal parts joy and confoundment from Beaubien’s frenetic yet effervescent structures. They are flora and fauna, saturated color and diffuse light, carefully cobbled together to defy our expectations of one veteran Chicago photographer.