Dorothy’s Dilemma

Photo by Jon Lowenstein courtesy of HPAC

Spirited away to Munchkinland, Dorothy can’t help but remember Kansas as drab and dusty. Nonetheless, she soon finds herself missing dear Auntie Em. Lucky for her, it only takes three clicks and a magical phrase to bring Dorothy back home. Can it really be so simple?

“No Place Like Home” examines the “dissonances between the ideal and the reality of home,” according to a statement written by the show’s curator, Dawoud Bey. To the dismay of audiences everywhere, Bey claims, “the secure, idealized place [Dorothy] wishes to return to is one that exists largely as a mythic and nostalgic construct.” In other words, there really is no place like home.

Jon Lowenstein’s portraits of the South Side are all weeds, cracked sidewalks, and cement walls. Mirroring the grit within the image, the physical prints are themselves distressed as if infected with the virus of urban decay.  Easy as it is to imagine a bleak social reality burning behind each frame, Lowenstein animates and complicates his pictures with the teeming energy of children at play. In one scene, a desolate street is overrun by a stampede of children. In another, an unkempt yard serves as the backdrop to an endearingly familiar scene–a young girl plays hide and seek, attempting to fully conceal herself behind a much-too-narrow telephone pole. Finally, in another, a teenage couple tenderly embraces above fractured asphalt.

David Schalliol, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago, has also chosen the South Side as his subject, though he takes a different angle on the landscape. Schalliol’s photographs unearth the aesthetic value inherent in an urban planner’s worst nightmare–a solitary building surrounded by empty lots. His meticulously composed series of “Isolated Building Studies” revels in the beauty of classical portrait arrangements. The void that planners claim attracts vice offers each scene symmetrical swathes of negative space that frame the homes. In one image, a stately two-story  home stands illuminated before a dark, fog-drenched street. In the back, a cement wall partitions the neighborhood, while a chrysanthemum of light blooms over two parked cars. While the photograph is beautiful, few people would like to see this from their living room.

Instead of finding beauty within urban disarray, Jason Reblando’s photographs examine the issues lingering beneath the manicured lawns of planned suburban towns. The photographs reveal how the process of place-making can in fact destroy a sense of place. Focusing on the communities of Greenhills, Ohio; Greenbelt, Maryland; and Greendale, Wisconsin,. the side-by-side images appear plucked from the same community, even though the towns they depict are time zones apart. Leaves, lawns, lakes, and strip malls–these scenes are clearly American, but nothing else is so clear. In “Daffodil House,” a quaint row of identical white homes line a gently curving scene. Innocuous and pleasant, to the greenery offers no clues to whether it is of the Midwest or East Coast.

Focusing on alternative conceptions of the word “home,” Lisa Lindvay’s photographs of her family complicate the image of a proper domestic space. Unbalanced by the absence of Lindvay’s mother, the home becomes overrun by an entire ecosystem of depleted soda products. Acknowledging the disgust such debris might inspire, Lindvay nonetheless claims “for [my family] this is comfort…is there anything wrong with soda?” Images of videogame wires running over and under cans, bottles, and cups conjure up a peculiar sense of beauty–a still life fitting of the American teenager. Likewise, Lindvay’s portrait of her father resting on the floor, his arms stretched across the dog, might at first glance inspire pity. It is easy to assume that in the absence of his wife he has been reduced to this state. The photograph, however, also reveals a powerfully natural sense of comfort–a man at ease with his dog, elevated by simple pleasures.

Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through January 8. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm. Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm. Sun, 12pm-5pm.  (773)324.5520. hydeparkart.org