An ACRE of Glass

photo courtesy of Kera MacKenzie

“Tracking Shot 2e,” Kera MacKenzie. Photo courtesy of the artist

ACRE Projects occupies a small white room behind a pair of plate-glass windows on a quiet block in Pilsen. As one of my friends said, it is definitely less than an acre. But hidden in this small space are the products of a thousand acres of farmland.

ACRE, short for Artists Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions, brings artists from Chicago to a massive farm in Steuben, Wisconsin. Continental breakfasts are enjoyed; collaborations are strengthened. In the studio spaces, the woodshop, the recording studio, and the rolling fields, art is produced.

These last two weeks, the gallery has hosted the show “Burden of Proof,” which features sculptures, appropriated objects, and photographs from ACRE participants Kera MacKenzie and Lauren Edwards. Although MacKenzie and Edwards were friends and collaborators before ACRE, that was unbeknownst to curator Kate Bowen when she first decided to pair their work. The two artists just seemed to have processes and obsessions that naturally complement each other.

“Lauren [Edwards] takes the actual, as it is represented photographically, and considers its material nature a part of its inherent failings as a document and then works to entangle it further in its own materiality,” said Bowen. Meanwhile, “Kera [MacKenzie] works from the phenomenological… and then creates documents, narratives and events as traces of her exploration. She entangles the experiential with documentation of the actual.”

Edwards’s contributions were based on a series of archival documentary prints. Titled “Montage (Object),” “Montage (Reflection),” and “Montage (Image),” her works transform a series of the earliest photographs of Antarctica, shot by Herbert Ponting. “Ponting was faced with having to visualize a landscape which lacked all the elements usually used when photographing place,” explained Edwards. “This includes scale, horizon, proper light, distance, and shifts in color. I used his work in order to place myself in his position; to implicate myself in these problems of seeing, and ultimately to try and understand how experience is navigated via images.”

The original documentary images, scanned or rephotographed and then viewed in the gallery setting, are suddenly and bracingly unfamiliar. “Montage (Reflection),” which I viewed in the gallery’s low light after emerging from a bright early spring afternoon, was particularly unusual; the first time I saw it, I thought it was a primitive photograph of a Hollywood studio set, or maybe some bizarrely tweaked image of a model train landscape.

Interspersed with Edwards’s ghostly Antarctic vistas, MacKenzie’s photographs and sculptural pieces hinted at impossible narratives, alien worlds, and unseen moving pictures. “Abductive Object V,” which caught my attention first, shows a hovering, rotating, metallic thing partially inspired by a metal cone in Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “Tlön Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius.” As Mackenzie explained, “I’ve been grappling with the idea of what it would be to bring back evidence from an imaginary landscape.” The object certainly earns its Tlönic adjectives.

“For Distant Viewing,” also by MacKenzie, is a mirrored lens mounted on a photograph and pedestal on the far inside wall. “’For Distant Viewing‘ is a sculpture but it also feels like a video and a performance to me,” said MacKenzie. “The viewer is asked to lend their figure to the sculpture and in exchange gets to see themselves and the gallery space in an unexpected way.”

As I looked into the lens, I could see the inverted image of everything behind me. Behind the upside-down artists and my upside-down companions, I observed a long stretch of 17th Street through the pair of plate glass windows–perhaps an acre, maybe more.

If you lived in the world that corresponds to that image, you’d quickly learn which phenomena are worth perceiving. Observe the stringent parking laws, the relationships between neighbors, the gradual process of gentrification, and the approximate walking distance to the nearest Pink Line stop (about three blocks, not including detours to nearby murals and Mexican restaurants). But inside ACRE Projects, that same red brick sub-block could be inverted, miniaturized, and then examined as an art object. It’s hard to see the reality of city life in an object, even in an object (a lens, an art gallery) that functions as a protean representer of other objects. Maybe that’s a sign that Edwards and MacKenzie have succeeded in complicating the truth of representation.

Wherever you’re standing, look to your left–there may be a thousand acres behind that door.

ACRE Projects, 1913 W. 17th St. Through April 28. Mondays and Sundays, noon-4pm.