Till the Fat Lady Sings

(Meaghan Murphy)

“This is a powerf**k” is an apt tagline for Slow Gallery’s current exhibition. “It ain’t over…” is all about power and how we mess with it–it’s about breaking rules, challenging assumptions, confronting ourselves and our relationship with power of any kind.

In the gallery, there’s a telephone pole lying on the floor. Too big for the stark and white-walled space, it extends into the furnished apartment of the gallery’s director. Separated by a door and an obvious change in décor the two pieces seem separate, making the viewer unsure if both spaces are open or not. After a few tentative looks around, one crosses the threshold to find a lamp post protruding out of the end of the pole, illuminating the apartment’s bed. On one of the gallery’s walls there is a looped video of two men chopping down a tall, bare tree in a misty wooded landscape. On another wall hang two plastic axes, filled with watery fake blood–a powerful statement, indeed. Axes, tree, pole: it’s an obvious connection, but it takes a moment to register.

Slow is a gallery that prides itself on its small shows and its careful pairing of artists, as well as its commitment to a down-to-earth vibe. It’s a place that’s over irony, a Pilsen gallery focused on “frankness.” With this exhibition, there’s definitely a lot of frankness in the room.

At a quick glance, the show’s pieces could appear unrelated and random, but it seems intentional. Slow’s director and curator Paul Hopkin–or as he introduces himself to guests at the opening, simply, “Slow Gallery Paul”–explained that these pieces are about power in a “comically literal way.” It’s so obvious, you might miss it. Body power, phallic power, electrical power, it’s “so stupid to even say it out loud,” he says.

The axes, the telephone pole, and the tree trunk video are all part of a sequence by Brent Garbowski and Joe Mault called, “It’s So Hard to Take What is Mine.” It’s “cyclical,” says Hopkin. “The ax is a way of taking power,” he says, but it’s filled with blood–“The weapon takes its owner’s blood.” Garbowski, a former student of Hopkin’s, mentioned that the original idea for the axes was to use a replica of the axes in the video, but the artists decided that would be too literal and not comedic enough.

Barbara DeGenevieve’s video piece showcases a large nude woman singing jazz standards directly to the camera. Her gaze is as confident as her voice crooning “Fever,” though her voice is almost more naked than her body. Her complete self-assuredness confronts your conceptions of what a naked body and voice should be like–objectified, ashamed, inhibited–without making viewers uncomfortable. It’s a fine line, and both the artist and her model get it right. There’s a power to it, but also a humor. Because of her model’s aplomb and poise, it’s funny when she forgets a bit of the lyrics, not awkward. You’re invited in on the joke, you’re invited to laugh. DeGenevieve’s model is not the traditional subject and her viewer is not the traditional gazer. These traditional lines are effaced, and what’s left is a completely sincere depiction of body and voice.

Hopkin hopes that the show succeeds in conveying a sense of humor beyond the trite and oft-relied upon sense of irony. “I’m very disappointed by irony. I see it as a lazy kind of humor,” he  says. With the curation of this exhibit, it’s clear he wants to find humor within power and the ways we construct it. And he succeeds. There’s something bare and bold to these pieces and their humor. Unencumbered by irony, power is all that’s left.

Slow Gallery, 2153 W. 21st St. Saturdays, 12-5pm. (773)-645-8803. paul-is-slow.info