When an artist announces that a new installation aims to explore the nature of time itself, eyes tend to roll. Chicago is a cosmopolitan city, but even here an exhibit advertising itself as a visual dissection of “the spatial vs. the temporal” contained within a “freeflowing abstract cloud of confusion” has to convince a viewer of its legitimacy. But South Side newcomer Amie Sell is no ordinary artist, and the Chicago Art Department (CAD) no common gallery.
Sell’s upcoming work, “Time Installation,” which will take up residence in the window of the Chicago Art Department starting November 5th, consists of over 3,000 clock hands wired together to depict time dwindling away. The pieces have been painted, bent, and strung together into a chaotic but meticulously crafted mesh. The moderated discussion following the exhibit’s opening will explore the ambiguities inspired by the installation and will invite feedback on anything ranging from “Back to the Future” scenes to the nature of time before the Big Bang.
Recapping her career, Sell talks about the upbringing that led her to the medium she loves best: sculpture made of the material minutiae of every day life–cardboard, clocks, or buoyant plastic bags. “I have been making things all my life,” Sell says. “I grew up with people who reuse objects, constantly repurposing them into new, more useful, things.” Defying the stereotype of a professional artist, whose desperate existence is often accompanied by the severance of income or ears, Sell says that the relative normalcy of her life allows her to push boundaries in her art: “I wake up every morning and work as an office administrator for a construction company. I feel like that frees me to act on ideas that interest me as opposed to what’s sellable.”
This is exactly what digital art instructor Nathan Peck envisioned when he helped to found CAD six years ago. “Professionally, we were a group of art professors that wanted a new testing ground for our idea: a space where the concept could control the medium, not the other way around.” CAD started out as a solution to what Peck describes as “graduating senior syndrome,” when students who have developed their skills within a cushy academic environment are handed a diploma and cut loose just at the point when they have started to develop their personal style. “CAD started with each of us inviting a few students, putting them in the same room, and allowing them to share tools and ideas.”
Recent works have included a tribute to Lincoln’s bicentennial, a test of the artistic capabilities of the iPhone, and raw depictions of the ecological threats facing the Great Lakes. “The range is the fun thing,” Peck says. “As opposed to aspiring to super-high quality in a single form, we try to foster a super-impressive range.” The scale of Sell’s installation in combination with its challenging subject matter makes it fit naturally with the CAD’s mission. The work is like no other CAD has displayed, which makes it a valuable addition to the gallery’s increasingly broad scope. Peck maintains that the distinctive cultural appetites of Chicagoans–and Pilsen residents in particular–are what make CAD possible and will make “Time Installation” successful. He won’t have to force the dialogue at the forum after the opening; there will be a willing audience that wants Sell and CAD to keep up the conversation.
CAD Gallery, 1837 S. Halsted. Installation on view from November 5-7. Conversational forums will be held from 6-9 pm on Friday, November 5 and Sunday, November 7. (312)725-4223. chicagoartdepartment.org