Eel Space is the latest addition to Chicago’s league of apartment galleries, a trend that has dominated the Bridgeport-Pilsen art scene for the past few years. The typical apartment gallery space involves just what its name implies: the markers of domesticity juxtaposed with all the features of an institutional gallery. In contrast with other apartment galleries where art is interspersed with the debris of its human inhabitants, Eel Space presents a clear division between the gallery and living quarters. One enters a small kitchen and is invited to grab a beer from the fridge and eat chips with creamy homemade dip. On one side is a view of a crowded living room. Opposite that and through an archway, art is displayed on freshly painted white walls and clean and cleared wood floors. This physical makeover of living space into gallery space is an obvious analogue to its first show, “Remake,” which plays with the themes of recasting and restyling things of the past.
Much of the art makes use of material and “kid” culture familiar to those growing up in the ’90s. A photograph by Claire Arctander presents the artist herself submerged in a bathtub full of Nickelodeon’s trademark slime. Another photograph depicts her entwined hands encircled by strands of Kraft Easy Cheese. These pieces recast familiar substances into an ambiguous and disconcerting new light. Familiar junk food, which brings to mind memories of after-school snacks and sleepovers, clashes starkly with the dark, adult tattoo on the artist’s arm. The work’s title, “Easy Bondage,” further challenges benign and nostalgic associations, replacing the Kraft-iness and innocence of a child’s snack with the sexual and taboo. In “Slime Bath,” she does not bear the happy and lively countenance of “Figure It Out” contestants, but instead sports an angst-ridden and despondent expression. Her breasts emerge visibly out of the slime, covered in a thicker, sickly green sludge. The slithery substance of public humor and entertainment is reversed and transformed into unnervingly intimate material.
Claire Arctander’s work contrasts sharply with the playful nature of artists Chris Lin and Kayce Bayer’s collaborative interactive sculpture piece “Mine, Mine!” They have worked together in performance pieces, but this project marks their first foray into collaborative object-making. “Mine, Mine!” seeks to engage with ideas of automation and authorship, a theme that Lin and Bayer develop by extending their own collaboration two steps further, inviting viewers to collaborate with the artists and one another in order to finish the work. The viewer is at liberty to touch and play with the sculpture, which is like an arcade game rendered in wood. The interactive element of the piece, however, leaves something to be desired. Though the viewer may handle the structure, the available interactions are limited to a sort of inconsequential “fiddling”: adding or subtracting brightly painted paper houses, lifting and lowering a cardboard crane, rolling the cloth surface back and forth. Any change a viewer makes is temporary and meaningless. The teasing inconsequence of the viewer’s manipulations ultimately seems to enhance the impression of the artist’s authorship, rather than endowing the viewer with a god-like experience. In this case the possibility of “remaking” is not extended, but rescinded.
Although the ostensible aim of the sculptors was to shatter the barrier between viewer and art object, the real “interactive” aspect of the exhibition was the opportunity to mingle with the artists in the curator’s Pilsen dwelling. As bespectacled creative types ate ginger snaps and potato chips by the moonlight, the environment was eerily akin to a grown-up sleepover, the very extension of childhood that the artists sought to evoke.
Eel Space. 1906 S. Throop Street. Hours by appointment. eelspace.wordpress.com