Closing Event on Saturday, February 16, 2019

4:00-6:00 pm at Aspect Ratio Gallery

The Dear Friend Reading by Karen Finley. Performance by A.J. McClenon. Conversation with Stephanie Barber, Phyllis Bramson, Dana Berman Duff, Karen Finley, Matthew Girson, Tracie D. Hall, La Keisha Leek, A.J. McClenon, and Lori Waxman.

An Illustrated Elegy

Of all the days in the year, what better one than St. Valentine’s Day for writing an elegy inspired by Sabina Ott and Dana Berman Duff’s exhibition, What She Sees When She Shuts Her Eyes. The two created a friendship that traverses the vicissitudes of space and time.

Sabina Ott challenged herself in her art-making. She insisted her friends and students challenge themselves too. She perceived possibilities beyond the horizon and then pushed even further. Duff channels Ott’s chutzpah to navigate the choppy waters of posthumous collaboration. With What She Sees When She Shuts Her Eyes, Ott and Duff launch their friendship into art’s astral plane.

For my response to the exhibition, I adopt the three-part poetic form of the elegy. I embroider the rhymed couplets with illustrations from the show and other interlocutors. Informative descriptions of the works are available from Duff and Aspect Ratio Gallery.

I.  Lamentation

Wrested from life’s humpty-dumpty terrain

Our friend Sabina is no longer here.

Why, again why, dear friends plead in refrain

Mere mortals founder in grief and fear.

II. Admiration

Life she spices with styrofoam masala

Prismatic color and mirrors of light.

She swims and soars in her art’s kabbalah,

Wanders in jungles where tigers burn bright.

III. Consolation

Our feminist artist claimed her own space

Mountain peak, fountain, garden and home.

With pink melon joy, she gets in our face:

Set senses free and spirit will roam.

Whatever we believe about after life, one thing is certain: Ott’s life force persists in her art. During and after her life, she catalyzes art making. What She Sees When She Shuts Her Eyes is much more than the collaboration of Ott and Duff. Bodies of water and subterranean lava fired their imagination.

They tapped the talents of Karen Finley and A.J. McClenon (sound); Stephanie Barber (text); Jon Lee (title graphics); Jesus Lopez Gorosave (drone videographer); and John Paulett (producer). John Cage no less emerged from the archives while Duff willed the work to completion.

On a Chicago winter day traffic flowing past the gallery sloshes melting snow. Inside, the alchemy of looking and listening enchants shut-eye rhythms of light with music of spheres inaudible to ears.

Illustrations

  1. What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes, from video.
  2. What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes, installation view.
  3. William Blake, illustration for Edward Young’s The Complaint, and the Consolation; or Night Thoughts. Designed and engraved by William Blake; hand colored, possibly by William Blake and Catherine Blake (William Blake Archive).
  4. What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes, from video.
  5. What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes, installation view.
  6. William Blake, Descent of man into the vale of death. Illustration for Robert Blair’s The Grave (William Blake Archive).
  7. The World Is Round: Remembering Sabina, in foreground.
  8. What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes, from video.
  9. The World Is Round: Remembering Sabina, from video.
  10. Lava Balls, in foreground.
  11. The World Is Round: Remembering Sabina, from video.
  12. Sabina Ott, always everyone, 2016.
  13. William Blake, Dante in the Empyrean Drinking at the River of Light. Illustration for The Divine Comedy, Paradiso (William Blake Archive).
  14. Ice lingam in the Himalayan cave temple of Amarnath in Kashmir, India.
  15. What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes, still from video.

Colophon: Photograph by David Soltzman & graphic by Kennedy Warfield.

Lise McKean

Lise McKean is a writer, editor, and anthropologist based in Chicago.