Climb the stairs to the second floor of the Hyde Park Art Center, and you will find a series of walls completely painted over by solid, bright colors. The light apple green contrasts with moonlight blue while pure white walls fill the space between them. Turn your head to the first wall on your left, and letters begin to form in thin yellow paint. “SLapthisophon”, they say in reference to their creator, the last few letters blending into another string of black paint that spells out “SQUIDPEASSALTSAFFRONTHYMESAGE”.
The string of ingredients is only the first sight in Dallas-based artist Stephen Lapthisophon’s fascinating exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center, “Construction of a National Identity.” Through the use of paint, food, and sound, Lathisophon’s work challenges viewers to re-examine the relationship of self and place in their own lives. A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Lapthisophon says that “Construction of a National Identity” is part of a long line of exhibitions inspired by people and their interactions with one another and their surroundings. “I’ve always been interested in how people relate to each other, so for me the next step was to explore the concept of how we relate to culture,” Lapthisophon explains.
Lapthisophon depicts culture in a physical form, tickling all five senses and alerting us to the extent of culture’s influence. In a pile of rice partially covering a collection of Spanish stamps as in a simple photo of a man and woman dancing the tango, Lapthisophon, encourages us to taste and feel all that we encounter. By demonstrating how culture dictates the sounds we hear, the objects we touch, and the sights we see, Lapthisophon’s goal is to make culture both touchable and larger-than-life. To fully capture culture’s tangible nature, Lapthisophon purposely deviates from traditional art methods and explores more contemporary media to convey his message, such as building a curious sound contraption mounted with string on a wall. “The piece itself has a lot of odd materials,” Lapthisophon says. “I mean, there’s paint made of saffron on the wall, there’s salt on the floor…For me, the piece operates on the physical components and that’s what I want people to concentrate on.”
Lapthisophon’s words ring true as one passes through the gallery and the physical components he speaks of begin to show themselves one by one. The words “NIGHTNACHTNOTTENOCHE” painted harshly in black ink make the individual experience of language a direct experience; viewers who speak different languages will see the same letters very differently. Utilizing objects and concepts we encounter in our everyday lives, Lapthisophon makes tangible the links between us and the cultural elements that are constantly shaping who we are. “[The exhibit] is meant to force people to ask questions because I think that for me, at this moment, we aren’t singular people of any kind. You have your identity based on your family but also by where you grow up.”
Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S Cornell Ave. Through May 22. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 12pm-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org