Close Encounters

Nabila Abdel-Nabi

“MERCY IS THE DOMAIN OF THE RICH,” travis cried, his booming voice traversing the four walls of the modest gallery space at DOVA. travis (always lowercase), an artist and member of the band ONO, says his artistic mission “springs from a performative approach to race, gendered space, and colonial objectification.” He could have been a quick-change artist in another life; one minute a resonant, ravishing basso profondo was echoing across the space, the next, piercing operatic cries brought travis’s repeated challenges to “BEHOLD THE SPECTACLE OF SUFFERING,” to a blush-inducing proximity. Literally. travis tried to engage the audience by coming so close to spectators’ faces that his smile lines were made cavernous, and later by getting down on his knees and grabbing at you so that you didn’t know whether to get down beside him or pull him up off the ground. It was a riveting piece, if a little much at times. With this level of conviction we could almost believe that the foil square he held up possessed the power to deflect the demonic, garbled yells coming from his background singers.

The theme of DOVA’s current exhibition, “Our Demons,” was inspired by curator Renee Stout’s own art series “I Peeped Your Demons.” The series explores “the demons that plagued a friend of hers,” explained professor of art history Rebecca Zorach. Hoping that the exhibition would possess a personal and a political component, the works asked a lot of questions about art as a way of presenting and even working through the demons that possess us on a personal and societal level.

The piece that best held its ground was “Optic Wall” by Maria Jonssons, a Swedish artist who taught a pottery class at the UofC last quarter. The piece consisted of a wall, which was meant to function as, “a room-divider that obscured” but which also conjured up “notions of a warped existence…the mind-space distorted.” The work was in progress for about a year, over the course of which a factory in Sweden collected old lenses for Maria, which she eventually pieced together using a soldering technique utilized in stained glass manufacturing. The lenses, which were of varying prescriptions, sizes, and tints, created playful, fun-house mirror distortions that could have been endlessly captivating. Certainly they fulfilled the artist’s aim to, “create an artwork that was about perception,” as they disoriented the viewer with see-through walls and transformative lenses. One couldn’t help but be reminded that we don’t always need an optic wall to see in caricatures.

Another piece was initially a lot quieter, but it had a magnetism that pulled viewers in and rooted them to the spot. Artist Mary Patten stuck a series of A4 sheets to the wall in a manner that recalled a grade school classroom display, each sheet consisting of what looked like a child’s first exercise in cursive handwriting. Indeed, out of context the lines used (“Be joyful, happy and open of heart” “Wear socks that stay up in the shoes”) might have taken that grade school theme further. But once we are told that they are excerpts from Mohammed Atta’s journal, the morning he flew a plane into the World Trade Center, the innocence they are laced with immediately collapses.

As the crowd trickled out of the bubble of DOVA Temp and back into the unnerving vacuum of the night, they had seen plenty of images to reflect on their own demons.

DOVA Temporary, 5228 S. Harper Ave. Through February 26. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5pm. (773)324-2089. lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/dovatemp