Entering the Chicago Art Department on Friday night for “In Between Days,” a one-night-only video installation piece by Edyta Stepien, feels like crawling into an enormous blanket fort, surrounded on all sides by wall-sized projections of white sheets hanging on a clothesline. The sheets ripple gently in the breeze while dangling wind chimes and an ethereal crooning evoke a feeling of relapse into childhood. After a few minutes, the projections change to a grassy lot in the sun; a young, blindfolded woman sways from side to side, smiling. The scene is equal parts joy and anxiety. A breathless ambient track thumps in the background, suggesting the woman’s vulnerability. A third scene plunges into a dark synthetic environment of recycled objects. Brian Eno music reverberates; scraps of paper weave into the background, plastic-bag clouds hover over a landscape of gravel dunes. Stepien is a Polish-born artist whose pieces combine large-scale images and sound to immerse the viewer in an otherworldly environment. Her work seeks to give form to states of uncertainty, and to connect our private systems of sense perception with the external world. Stepien is constantly experimenting with new media, from printmaking to photography to computer-generated images. “I believe every new medium is like learning new words in a visual language,” she says.
“In Between Days” is a collaboration between Stepien and Chuck Przybyl, a Chicago-based freelance photographer and video artist. His work focuses on detail and texture, inspired by urban environments. Like Stepien, he is fascinated by the intersection of the self and surroundings.
The scenes of “In Between Days” were shot either in a studio or outdoors on the block around the gallery. Stepien says that the project was an attempt to bring an outdoor setting into a created environment, to blur the lines between the public world and the private. The piece is concerned, above all, with transitional spaces: the moment “in between” waking and dreaming, childhood and adulthood, motion and stillness.
In the plastic landscape, there is a disconnect between the beauty of the scene and the violence of its content. Ripped plastic and clumps of wire have an arresting effect on the viewer: it is lovely, but after a few minutes we realize that the vista we are admiring is actually made of trash. The relationship between the organic and the manmade is one of Stepien’s central artistic preoccupations. Environmentalism and humanity’s fraught relationship with the Earth underlies much of her work.Â The synthetic landscape of “In Between Days” serves to remind us of how the manmade world can trespass on what came before.