Art of the Living Dead: antena’s zombie-themed exhibit is hardly “A Mindless Affair”

Still from a film to be shown at Death by Design Co. (Courtesy of Edra Soto)

Still from a film to be shown at Death by Design Co. (Courtesy of Edra Soto)

Since opening in April 2008, Pilsen’s antena gallery has gained a reputation for exhibiting the weird and exotic. Past shows have included an “Orgy of Mutant Toys” and an electric chair; a current show features a fake Facebook account purportedly set up for Pilsen alderman Danny Solis–complete with risqué status updates. For Halloween, antena will be hosting a special living-dead show entitled “Zombie: A Mindless Affair.”

Miguel Cortez founded antena in his home, after the closing of his previous gallery, a three-person collaboration called Polvo. The project space takes up about half a room and houses most of its work on the apartment’s west and northern walls. The gallery hosts artists from around Chicago free of charge, although Cortez gets a share of any pieces sold in his gallery. “It’s non-commercial, more experimental,” Cortez says of antena. “I let the artists alter the space for installations. I don’t focus on the commercial aspect of it.”

“Zombie: A Mindless Affair” is unusual for an antena exhibit both in that Cortez is not the curator and in the sheer number of participants. “Usually the space is just for a few-person show,” Cortez explains. Interested in the idea of a topical show, Cortez outsourced a project to local artist Edra Soto. “She’s shown here before, and she’s had a couple of solo shows here, but this time I wanted her to curate something,” says Cortez. Soto, whose work has been featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art, decided to focus the show on both the metaphorical and the literal living dead. On antena’s website, the show is described as addressing “issues referring to the mindless self in a social spectrum: leading and following; acts of automatism and fanatic behavior.” Soto assembled a group of over twenty local artists to provide literary, film, and 2D art works for use in the exhibit. It opens with a lecture and discussion hosted by Soto, followed by a screening of a film by Death by Design Co.

Death by Design Co. is a Chicago special effects enterprise that was started by artists Michelle Maynard and Teena McClelland to provide clients with a personalized, staged “death.” Maynard and McClelland will join author Scott Kenemore, who specializes in zombie literature, and artist Mindy Rose Schuartz, who is featured in the show, in the panel discussion this Friday.

Most of the art currently on display at antena was made by Cortez himself, including several wood-prints, a print-out of the aforementioned Facebook experiment, and a video still. At the end of the week, the space will be lined with artwork more appropriate for Halloween. “That was the choice by Edra, to go that route,” Cortez says of Soto’s thematic choice. “I gave her the field to do whatever she wanted, and she chose zombies… She came up with that idea, to coincide with Halloween festivities and the Day of the Dead.” Despite the seeming frivolity of an art show about zombies, Cortez and Soto have higher themes at play. The show’s description cites the zombie as “a starting point to engage in ideas of death, mindlessness and symbolisms for the occult and inexplicable”; areas with which antena has already established ample familiarity.
antena, 1765 S. Laflin St. October 23-November 21. Hours by appointment. Opening reception October 23. Friday, 6-10pm.