Party On

photo courtesy of Slow

photo courtesy of Slow

While we’ve all heard the old lemons and lemonade adage, modern life can still be daunting. Between work and study, moments of beauty have become fewer and more fleeting. Yet people still seek them out. The latest show at Pilsen’s Slow, “Be the party (please don’t go),” addresses the idea of finding such beauty through the pairing of two unique artists, photographer Helmut Heiss and mobility aid sculptor Emily Severance.

When first walking into the small exhibition room, the difference in the two artists’ styles is immediately apparent. The photographs by Heiss, a Vienna native, are confusing at first glance; though they initially appear to be cityscapes, an out-of-place element renders them uncanny. Upon closer inspection, one realizes this unusual object is a drone carrying a disco ball. The repetition of the disco ball transforms a sinister weapon of destruction into a party item.
These understated photos were complemented by Severance’s vibrant pieces, which were placed haphazardly on the floors and walls. In her collection, Severance takes mobility devices, such as walkers, canes, and braces, and adorns them. What results is a positive, playful aesthetic. Using beautifully colored yarns, she crochets these utilitarian tools into exciting new creations such as schools of jellyfish or patches of colorful sea flora. All of the pieces in her collection are inspired by landscapes and places Severance has visited while on vacation. She finds beauty in the dull and dreary. In her hands, objects associated with age and physical weakness become strikingly beautiful vistas.
photo courtesy of Slow

photo courtesy of Slow

Curator Paul Melvin Hopkin explains that the two artists share “a very strong sensibility…taking something sad and heavy and transforming it into an exuberance.” While a drone can be seen as a negative militaristic entity, the addition of a disco ball turns it into a strangely joyful object. In both collections, the unexpected addition of one element creates beauty and adds a positive aspect to otherwise negative situations.

Continuing through the gallery, the art becomes more and more interactive, and the distinction between art and life itself gets blurred. The back room of the gallery doubles as Hopkin’s apartment, and visitors walk around his bed, living room and kitchen, hopefully without stealing anything. Hopkin encourages visitors to wear certain neck and headpieces–which he specifies–from Severance’s collection for the remainder of their exploration of the gallery. Visitors can sit in chairs decorated by Severance and listen to hired readers perform her poetry. The decorations surround the seated visitor and give a sense of unity with the art. Visitors can also go into the kitchen and share an artisanal peanut butter and jelly beer, custom-brewed by Pilsen artist collective SmAB for the show in bottles decorated by Severance’s yarn creations.

By creating an environment that becomes one with the art, Hopkin hopes that people will move beyond the aesthetic value of the artwork and analyze its deeper meaning. He expressed his work by saying, “Art is so visual that we say, ‘Oh that’s cool,’ and we shut down. Cool is enough, but the reason people make art should go deeper, should have a relevance in our lives more than that.” Judging from the reception’s audience, which ranged from young hipsters to gray-hairs, this pursuit of something more may be exactly what the people of Chicago are looking for.

Slow, 2153 W. 21st St. Through April 27. Saturdays, noon-5pm and by appointment. (773)645-8803. paul-is-slow.info