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"Negotiated Localities".

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Betty Rymer Gallery, IL November 17, 2006 * January 5, 2007

In the both acclaimed and crucified Bruce Mau blockbuster "Massive Change: The Future of Global Design" (whose run at MCA Chicago ended on December 31), solutions to various problems now facing the earth's inhabitants--like environmental degradation, social anomie, and dwindling food and energy reserves--are slickly presented in a dense array of sans-serif type, glossy images, and seductive models of futuristic machines. The exhibition is unapologetically utopian, providing a design-based answer for every imaginable dilemma. What is remarkable--or perhaps predictable--is the source of this optimism: the unfettered and responsive global marketplace. Here, it seems, Adam Smith's "invisible hand" has a shiny new glove. This is clearest in the show's celebration of supply-side economics, where visitors can scan barcode simulations of credit cards to access flattering descriptions of the founders of Wal-Mart and VISA. The "flattening of the world" orchestrated by all-pervasive marketing shows us that global problems and solutions are really all the same. Only the target audiences or flavors need be adjusted to suit cultural needs.

In opposition to this approach, but a no less utopian one, is the concurrent "Negotiated Localities" at SAIC's Betty Rymer Gallery. Curated by faculty members Cindy Coleman and Claire Pentecost, the project takes up similar problems of sustainability, but links them incontrovertibly to questions of place and community. Comprising the work of some 16 artists and collectives, it represents the curators' desire to put "the local and the sustainable into practice." But where "Massive Change" is suitably massive, "Negotiated Localities" remains modest in scale and immediacy--temporal verticality is chosen over superficial horizontal appeal.

Even though both shows share a central mantra of "reduce, re-use, recycle," whereas "Massive Change" celebrates the Ford Motor Company's as-yet-unfulfilled commitment to reducing waste, "Negotiated Localities" asks us to think a little closer to home. Bruce and Stephanie Tharp's Ghost Still: Water Distillation Adaptor Kit (for Louis Ghost chair by Starck/Kartell) (2006), for example, turns the iconic clear acrylic chair into a device for distilling potable water from the body's urine. This is Architecture (Entertainment Weekly) (2006), a project by AVAILABLE (aka E. Grimes), outlines the resources saved when renovating a derelict steel foundry as backdrop for a magazine story on actress Charlize Theron.

Despite the bourgeois convenience of rethinking sustainability in terms of recycling programs and hybrid cars, here ecological concerns are tied directly to trickier questions of social justice. Inferno Studio (2006) from Collective Inferno (Irina Botea, Nikko Coleman, Odile Compagnon, Drea Howenstein, Michael Holmes, Angela Lo, Jayve Montgomery, Britney Rutherford) is a solar-powered, mobile sound studio that delivers music and stories in and around Chicago. Art duo Max Reinhardt and Simon Slater (aka Earthscraper) showed Bodegas: El Luchador Hambriento (2006), a corner store built from recycled materials originally sited on a decommissioned railway line that may become a city park. This romantic depiction of unregulated economy also offered loose comment on the changing ethnic and economic makeup of Chicago's west side. The art and architecture collective SIMPARCH offered documentation of their Clean Livin' (2003) live/work facility at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah--an "off-the-grid" compound powered by the sun and by people who cart water with a specially built bike cart to a gravity-enabled shower.

Discovering a connection between gastronomic pleasure and open-source economics, Chicago-based Nancy Klehm presented visitors with recipes for making mead, pickles, and bread using wild yeast, a type of naturally occurring yeast that varies from one geographical region to the next. Where "Massive Change" turns us all into idle spectators, captive to the changes wrought by captains of industry in response to "consumer demand," Klehm and the other exhibited artists challenge the comfort we find in assuming the role of consumer. While better fuel efficiency and recycling our bottles may make us feel a lot better about our buying habits, "Negotiated Localities" asks us to find a longerlasting pleasure outside of--or at least alongside--our commodity fetishism.
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Title Annotation:art exhibitions
Author:Griffis, Ryan
Publication:ArtUS
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:665
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